News Abortion

Alaska Parental Notification Lawsuit To Be Heard In February

Robin Marty

The state law requiring a parent to be notified before a minor can receive an abortion will be heard on February 13th, 2012.

It’s still a long ways away, but a new law requiring that all Alaskan minors seeking abortions must notify their parents first will be getting a court hearing next February.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock has ruled that both parties will be heard on February 13th, 2012.  Planned Parenthood is challenging the state law, saying that the 48 hour mandatory wait after notifying a parent, as well as a “notarized” statement of sexual abuse complete with third party verification for a girl who is seeking judicial bypass, represents the toughest parental notification law in the country.

Supporters, meanwhile, call the measure necessary, saying otherwise teens might fake a sexual assault to get out of telling their parents that they are getting an abortion.

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News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"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," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

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.

News Law and Policy

In Alaska, a Woman Would Need to Be in a Coma to Get State-Funded Abortion Care

Nicole Knight Shine

The State of Alaska is appealing a court ruling that found its definition of "medically necessary" abortion unduly restrictive by limiting Medicaid funding to women with a serious medical condition.

The State of Alaska is appealing a state Superior Court ruling that found its definition of “medically necessary” abortion unduly restrictive by limiting Medicaid funding of the procedure to women with a serious medical condition, like a coma.

In its appeal, Senior Assistant Attorney General Stuart Goering said the state will argue that it can enact standards to distinguish between medically necessary abortions and elective abortions, so that state Medicaid money pays only for those deemed medically necessary.

The appeal marks the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers and the governor to strip the procedure of state funding. A decision in favor of the state could jeopardize abortion coverage for hundreds of low-income women annually.

In 2013, the former Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (now called Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands), among others, sued to block a regulation that limited Medicaid coverage to women who could demonstrate their abortion was “medically necessary,” meaning it met at least one of 21 conditions deemed a serious health risk, such as seizures, congestive heart failure, or diabetes “with acute metabolic derangement.”

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The regulation was temporarily blocked by a judge, but Republicans soon after pushed through a similarly restrictive bill, SB 49, which passed in 2014 on a near party-line vote. That law was also temporarily halted.

“It was tantamount to a ban on Medicaid paying for abortion,” Laura Einstein, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said of the restrictions in an interview with Rewire.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock in August ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, saying the regulation and law violated the state constitution. Suddock said in a 53-page ruling that the state’s limits failed to address “less-than-catastrophic” situations and imposed a “higher barrier” to funding abortion compared to other “non-pregnancy medical needs.”

In Alaska, state money in the Medicaid program pays for low-income women’s abortions, unlike most states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Between January 2013 and July 2014, Planned Parenthood performed 1,633 abortions, and of those, 769 were covered by Medicaid, Einstein said.

The August decision underscores a longstanding clash in the nation’s northernmost state over the definition of medically necessary abortion. Since the 1994 state law had defined medically necessary abortion as one to “ameliorate the physical or emotional health of a woman,” Einstein said.

State Republican lawmakers have increasingly acted to limit Medicaid-funded abortions to cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother, in a fashion similar to the federal Hyde Amendment. Planned Parenthood has argued the state’s regulation restricting Medicaid abortions puts a burden on pregnant low-income women who already have the least access to health care.

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the state must pay for medically necessary abortions if it pays for other procedures deemed medically necessary. In that decision, the court ruled that medication needed by women with conditions like bipolar disorder and epilepsy “can be highly dangerous to a developing fetus.”

Goering described the notice of appeal filed November 6 as routine and not ideologically motivated.