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Parental Notification Initiative to Appear on the Alaska Ballot

On Wednesday, the Alaska State Supreme Court ruled that a parental notification initiative will appear on the Alaska primary ballot in August. The validity of the initiative, which would require parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion, was challenged in court by Planned Parenthood. If enacted, the parental notification law would include a judicial bypass provision. A parental consent law was overturned by the Alaska State Supreme Court in 2007.

Planned Parenthood argued that the petition process for the initiative was flawed and contained omissions that could have misled the more than 32,000 voters who signed the petition according to the Associated Press. According to the Anchorage Daily News, approximately 47,000 signatures were submitted, well above the legal requirement of 32,734.

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that "Although the petition summary in this case was deficient and misleading by omission, it was not as misleading as [other petitions] and petition-signer inadvertence was unlikely or minimal in this case. The petition summary's omissions did not substantially misrepresent the essential nature of the [initiative]." The court also found that the sponsors of the initiabve would experience "great" hardship if the signatures were invalidated because "the sponsors here have already expended a significant amount of time and resources to gather all of the required signatures" and that opponents of the initiative would experience "little hardship...if the corrected summary is allowed to be used as the ballot summary."

Associate Justice to the Alaska Supreme Court, Daniel Winfree, wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. He wrote, "no initiative should be presented on an election ballot if it has not met the existing constitutional and statutory screening standards. If an initiative petition summary used to gather signatures is not legally acceptable, the initiative should be barred from the ballot and a new petition circulated with an accurate and impartial summary…Because the petition summary in this case was not legally acceptable, I would bar the initiative from the ballot."

Opponents of parental notification or consent laws restricting abortion access argue that these laws endanger young women who may resort to unsafe abortion methods in order to bypass parental involvement. A 2009 report (see PDF) from NARAL Pro-Choice America states, "Mandatory parental-involvement (consent and notice) laws do not solve the problem of inadequate family communication; they only exacerbate a potentially dangerous situation. In some circumstances, teens facing a crisis pregnancy feel compelled to travel to another state where there is a less stringent parental-involvement law or no such law at all, to avoid involving their parents and maintain their privacy. In the most dire of circumstances, some pregnant young women who fear telling their parents may resort to illegal or self-induced abortions that may result in death."

Media Resources: Feminist Daily Newswire 1/19/10; Associated Press 6/3/10; Alaska Dispatch 6/2/10; Alaska Supreme Court 6/2/10; Anchorage Daily News 1/15/10

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