In split decision, the Alaska Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved law that required at least one parent to be notified before an abortion practitioner could perform an abortion on a minor girl. The law provided an option for a judge to bypass the notification requirement in special circumstances.
Initially approved in 2010 when Alaska became the first state to pass a parental notification law through a citizen-led initiative, the measure was challenged in the Alaska Supreme Court by Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the nation.
The law passed comfortably in 2010 by a 56 to 43 percent margin.
The achievement was a long sought and welcome victory, particularly for parents and many Catholics who collected petition signatures, waved signs on street corners and prayed to ensure the protection of parental rights. The Catholic Church recognizes the relationship between parent and child as sacred — and not one to be broken by others, including abortion practitioners.
In 2012 Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock upheld major portions of the law, concluding that “minors may be pleasantly surprised when underestimated parents support, comfort and affirm them. Or a teen might overlook available resources. Her parents might help raise the child, and so make college or military service feasible. Parental notification undoubtedly can open doors to unconsidered options for an otherwise isolated young woman.”
Since the law took effect, the number of abortions to girls age 17 and younger had seen a dramatic drop. In 2010, before the law took effect, there were 113 abortions to girls under 17. After the law took effect there were only 87 abortions to girls under 17 in 2011 and the state saw a record low number of reported abortions last year. According to the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics 1,334 abortions were performed in 2015, the fewest since 2003 when Alaska began recording data.
In striking down the parental consent law, then Chief Justice Dana Fabe was joined by justices Daniel Winfree, Peter Maasen and Joel Bolger. Justice Craig Stowers dissented.
Stowers noted that the parental consent law had “One obvious purpose” and that was “to provide the minor’s parents the opportunity to discuss with their daughter the potential effects of and alternatives to abortion. This is beyond doubt a legitimate interest and right that the State and the parents possess.”
Stowers criticized his colleagues for failing to uphold basic parental rights saying the ruling “trivializes and makes this right of no effect.”
In writing the majority opinion, Winfree claimed that the law unjustifiably treated minors differently when they sought an abortion as opposed to when they decided to keep their babies. By requiring abortion doctors to notify parents that their daughter was to undergo an abortion but not requiring parents to be notified when their daughter chose to keep the baby was seen as a violation of equal protection under the law, Winfree argued.
“Our response — again — is that the Notification Law’s problem is not with wording, but rather with the lack of an acceptable justification for discriminating between pregnant minors based on how they exercise their fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice,” Winfree claimed. “The equal protection clause guarantees that the State may not discriminate between individuals with respect to a fundamental right unless a compelling governmental interest justifies the discrimination.”
But Stowers had strong words for the court’s rational, saying that the same court had previously stated in a 2007 striking down parental consent that a parental notification law could pass constitutional muster because it would be a less restrictive way to further the state’s interests.
By striking down the parental notification law Stowers said the court has indicated that “no parental notification law recognizing parents’ fundamental legal rights to notification of, much less meaningful involvement in, their minor daughters’ decisions to have abortions will be upheld by this court under its strained jurisprudence defining minors’ rights to equal protection.”