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NCYL Seeks to Protect Alaska’s Vulnerable Teens

8cee765025The National Center for Youth Law, Juvenile Law Center, and Legal Voice have filed an amicus curiae brief in the Alaska Supreme Court urging the court to consider the Equal Protection implications for a state law requiring minors to notify their parents prior to obtaining an abortion. Enacted in 2010 through a ballot initiative, the law violates Alaska’s equal protection laws by treating similarly situated teenagers differently, amici argue. The case, Planned Parenthood v. Alaska, is on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court after the superior court found the law constitutional in October 2012. On May 14, 2013, NCYL and amici joined the case in support of appellants Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two Alaska physicians.

As amici note, teenagers in Alaska have long had the ability to seek many types of reproductive health care on their own, without the consent or notification of a parent. Amici point out that requiring pregnant teenagers to notify their parents when they choose to seek abortion, while allowing their pregnant peers to obtain other health care without such hurdles, violates equal protection. The brief cites decisions out of the high courts of New Jersey, California, and Florida, where similar parental notification and/or parental consent laws have been struck down as unconstitutional.

Importantly, this law affects Alaska’s most vulnerable teens. Studies show that the majority of teenagers already consult their parents before obtaining an abortion and that laws requiring parental notification or consent do not in fact promote family communication. Those youth who do not involve their parents often have important reasons for not doing so. Amici cite to the California Supreme Court, which noted for example, “[M]any minors who do not voluntarily consult their parents have good reason to fear that informing their parents will result in physical or psychological abuse to the minor (often because of previous abusive activity or because the pregnancy is the result of intrafamily sexual activity) . . . .” Although Alaska’s law contains a “judicial bypass” clause, permitting teens not to notify a parent if they obtain a court order, vulnerable teenagers may face any number of obstacles—emotional, geographic, financial—that would prevent them from being able to utilize this exception.

NCYL also acted as amicus curiae in 2004 in a successful appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court regarding a law that required parental consent for abortion. The court struck down the law as a violation of the right to privacy under the state constitution.

For a youth perspective on laws requiring parental involvement in the decision to have an abortion, read this Youth Law News article.

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