New legislation would require parental consent for abortions

A bill that would require parental consent for a minor to have an abortion is making its way through the Alaska State Legislature. If passed, House Bill 35, sponsored by Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, would require a young woman under the age of 17 to obtain consent from a parent or guardian before undergoing the procedure.
The bill addresses four exemptions from parental consent: married minors, legally emancipated minors, minors who have joined the armed services and minors who are employed and self-subsisting. Many states have passed similar legislation and supporters of HB 35, including Gov. Sarah Palin, view the bill to as “family-oriented.”
Co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, is not certain the bill will move to the Senate, but said he thinks it is more than likely.
“It’s hard to extrapolate a social issue like that one to the House floor,” Ramras said.
The bill is very much embraced by social conservatives, but Ramras said HB 35 only addresses a sliver of the entire issue and if passed, would not impact the decisions teenagers make when it comes to having sex or practicing safe sex.
“I think this is a tiny little skirmish in the ongoing Roe v. Wade battle, pro-life versus pro-choice,” Ramras said.
He said that most of the time, teenagers do get parental consent before they get an abortion and it is not that often that a teen goes forward with the procedure without notifying a parent.
“In the overwhelming cases, [parents] are involved,” Ramras said.
Clover Simon, Vice President of Alaska for Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest (PPGNW), said that last year in the Anchorage office, there were 18 young women under the age of 17 who had an abortion. Out of the 18, only four came in without a parent. Simon said that PPGNW is in support of parents communicating with their teens, especially about abortion, but that minors who are not willing to talk to their parents about this issue are the most at-risk teens.
She said PPGNW views HB 35 as unconstitutional.
“This legislation, as written, would burden a minor girl’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” Simon said.
The Alaska Supreme Court had the same belief in 2007 when it ruled the Parental Consent Act, passed by the State Legislature in 1997 to be unconstitutional on a 3-2 vote.
“Under the Alaska State Constitution, all women are guaranteed the right to privacy,” Simon said.
If HB 35 is enacted, a minor would have the option of requesting a judicial bypass. According to Simon, however, this is a complicated process that could take up to 18 weeks to finalize. That would then put a young pregnant teen into her second trimester and limits her options.
Due to this reason, PPGNW’s stand is that this legislation would not decrease the number of abortions for minors but would actually increase the number of late-term abortions, creating a greater risk to a woman’s health.
Simon said states that have passed similar legislation have seen an increase in second trimester abortions. For example, after the state of Missouri passed a parental consent act, it found a 17 percent increase of second trimester abortions for minors. Since Alaska does not perform second trimester abortions, teens would be forced to find an alternative way to get an abortion, most likely flying to Washington State to have the procedure done.
PPGNW also argues that the Alaska Supreme Court ruling cost the state of Alaska over one million dollars in court mandated fees. In an economic recession, PPGNW believes that instead of incurring the same expense, the state should invest the money to prevent unintended teen pregnancies.
“We shouldn’t waste money to challenge a bill that is unconstitutional,” Simon said.
Currently, HB 35 has moved out of the House Judicial Committee and has three scheduled hearings in the House Finance Committee this week.
In numerous press releases, Gov. Sarah Palin has expressed her support of HB 35. She argues that if minors need parental consent to take a Tylenol in school, surely a procedure such as an abortion would require the same consent.
Last year, a similar bill also failed in the Senate when it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. French refused to move it out of his committee, said Bill McAllister, Press Secretary to the Governor, in an e-mail.
“This bill is worded a little differently, and the governor has noted that Supreme Courts have been known to reverse themselves,” McAllister said.
If the bill fails this time around, it is likely that the issue will once again resurface.
“Gov. Palin hopes the bill will pass this session,” McAllister said. “But the issue won’t go away if it doesn’t.”