Judge Rules Alaska Parental Notification Law Constitutional

An Alaska state court judge ruled a 2010 parental notification did not violate teenagers privacy rights or equal protection guarantees.

photo courtesy of spotreporting via Flickr

An Alaska state court judge has upheld as constitutional a state law that requires parents be notified before their teenage daughter has an abortion.

In a 65-page decision Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock said the state’s parental notification law was not a violation of a teenager’s right to privacy nor does it violate equal protection guarantees despite the fact that a pregnant teenager can access prenatal care without parental notification but not an abortion.

The law was passed via an August 2010 voter initiative and applies to Alaska teenagers age 17 and younger and says abortion providers must generally inform parents before performing an abortion. Girls can get around the requirement by going to a judge or providing the doctor with notarized statements attesting to abuse at home. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two individual doctors sued to block the law, arguing that it could delay or prevent vulnerable girls from receiving an abortion because of the legal hoops and complicated mechanisms. A judge blocked some portions of the law from taking effect pending the outcome of a trial on the constitutionality of the measure. This order upholding the constitutionality of the law is what followed from that trial this spring.

Suddock’s order struck some aspects of the law while reinstating others. Among the most controversial of the rulings was one holding that doctors and clinics who perform abortions without ensuring parents are notified can face criminal prosecution. That element had been on hold. But he struck a companion provision that allowed for civil damages against providers should they fail to notify a teen’s parents.

Suddock’s order also holds that other members of clinic staffs can notify parents and that doctors don’t have to do it themselves. The voter initiative required it doctors be the ones providing the notice. Also, parents who accompany a minor to the clinic must show proof of the relationship, such as a birth certificate, a requirement that also had been on hold since the initial legal challenge.

In 2007 the state Supreme Court struck down a law requiring parental consent prior to a teenager’s abortion. Suddock’s order and the 2010 law only require notification.

The matter may not be finished. Challengers could still appeal the ruling which would eventually give the state Supreme Court the final say in the matter.