The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.
The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.
The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.
In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.
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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.
Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.
The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.
Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”
He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”
Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.
Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”
Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.
Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”
“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.
CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.
The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.