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Court upholds Alaska's parental-notice law on abortions for minors

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A judge upheld an Alaska law requiring girls who are minors to tell their parents they want to have an abortion but struck down a provision that would have increased potential civil liabilities faced by abortion providers, state officials said on Tuesday.

Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled late Monday that the parental-notification law, which stemmed from a ballot initiative passed in 2010, was constitutional but was likely to have a negligible effect on family involvement in teenagers' lives.

Suddock said in his ruling that the vast majority of parents who were aware of their daughters' decision to have an abortion were supportive, and only 6 percent "cause serious problems for their daughters."

In that small minority of families, girls would have recourse through what the judge called an "admittedly daunting" judicial-bypass procedure that allows "seriously concerned" minors to avoid disclosure.

Civil rights groups who sued to overturn the law, including Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union, said it violated minors' due process and privacy rights and the due process rights of abortion providers.

"This law ignores the fact that for some pregnant teens, parental involvement of seeking the consent of a judge just isn't a realistic option," Andrew Beck, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement.

"This is especially true in a state as large as Alaska, where a teen may have to travel long distances and take time away from school to attend a judicial hearing," Beck said.

The rights groups were considering an appeal to the decision, according to Planned Parenthood's Alaska Vice President Clover Simon.

In his ruling, Suddock struck down a portion of the law that would have exposed abortion providers to broader civil liabilities, but reinstated a provision allowing for criminal prosecution - with possible penalties of five years in jail and a $1,000 fine - for providers that knowingly violate the law.

Under the law, a knowing violation of the parental-notice requirement is a felony. But Suddock said it was unlikely that a medical provider would be prosecuted under the law.

Assistant Alaska Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh said parental notification had worked well since the 2010 law was enacted.

In most cases, minors who receive abortions are accompanied by their parents, she said. Of those who choose to not inform their parents, "some of them will have very good reasons," she said, adding that the law had "built into it a sense of protection for those minors."

There are typically 100 to 150 abortions performed on minors in Alaska per year, Paton-Walsh said, although that number has been declining.

Last year, there were 87 abortions performed on minors, down from 134 in 2007, according to a report issued by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Suddock said the law had the implicit approval of the Alaska Supreme Court, which in 2007 found a more sweeping parental consent law to be unconstitutional.

(Editing by Mary Slosson and Cynthia Johnston)

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