New Measure Puts Alaskan Teens At Risk


Editor’s Note: This piece has been changed from its original to replace “consent” with “notification” in paragraph four.  We regret the error.

Last week I traveled from St. Louis Missouri to beautiful Anchorage, Alaska to volunteer with the No on 2 Campaign and help Alaskans fight a proposed parental notification ballot measure.  On Tuesday August 24, 2010 Alaskans voted in favor of the parental notification measure by a ratio of 55 percent to 45 percent. Even in pro-choice communities parental notification measures are challenging and people often find themselves torn between parental rights and the rights of teens.  Five days on the ground talking to voters in Anchorage, Alaska really drove home what’s at stake for reproductive justice, voters and for Alaskan teens. 

At first glance parental notification seems so simple – adults like the idea of knowing what’s going on in the lives of teens.  The good thing is that most teens, including Alaskan teens, do communicate with their parents.  But some teens in abusive family situations would face serious harm should their parents be notified of their pregnancy.  Parental notification mandates don’t discriminate and so-called safeguards like judicial by-passes are all too often better in theory than practice.

Alaskans Against Government Mandates is a coalition of teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, Planned Parenthood supporters, faith leaders and other Alaskans who joined together in hope of defeating Ballot Measure 2.  Alaskans from all walks of life oppose parental notification because they agreed that it was an unnecessary abortion restriction that would put teens at risk while doing nothing to reduce unplanned teen pregnancies.

By approving Ballot Measure 2, also known as The Alaska Parental Involvement Act, a majority of Alaskan voters decided to forbid any minor from getting an abortion without a doctor informing at least one parent before moving forward with the procedure. The proposal also included enforcing legal penalties on doctors who perform abortions on minors without notification of the minor’s parents. Ballot Measure 2 allows the minor to go to court to authorize an abortion without giving notice to her parent or guardian. This is commonly referred to as a judicial by-pass. 

While volunteering in Alaska I participated in phone banks and door-to-door canvassing and I talked to a lot of Alaskan voters.  Many of those voters who were undecided on the parental notification issue pointed to the judicial bypass as an option for teens who would be put at risk should their parents be notified of their pregnancy and choose to seek abortion services.  When I explained the judicial bypass procedure to these voters they were often surprised at how complex and uncertain it really is.  A minor can’t just show up at court and casually secure a judicial bypass.  As Ballot Measure 2 reads, the minor could ask the court to excuse her from school to attend the hearings and to have the abortion. The court could direct the school not to tell the minor’s parent or guardian of the minor’s pregnancy, abortion, or absence from school. The bill allows a minor who is a victim of abuse by her parent or guardian to get an abortion without notice or consent. To do this, the minor and an adult relative or authorized official with personal knowledge of the abuse must sign a notarized statement about the abuse.

I walked undecided voters through the reality of that process for Alaskan teens, many of whom live in rural communities.  We discussed the fact that court is not required to excuse a minor from school and what it would mean for a teen if the court denies that initial request.  We talked about the fact that the court is not required to keep the teens request confidential.  “Could” is not the same as “must”, and it is a valid concern that under this new law courts can notify parents that their teen has requested a judicial bypass.  If that teen is a survivor of abuse by a parent, that means that their abuser would be notified that the victim sought a judicial by-pass and that puts the teen at risk.

Beyond the obvious daunting hurdles within the process of parental notification there is the reality of abuse in Alaska.  On phone call after phone call I talked to Alaskan voters about the fact that Alaska ranks fifth in the nation for the prevalence of child victimization, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Alaska has some of the nation’s highest rates of family violence.  Alaskan rape statistics are some of the highest in the country.  The voters I spoke to knew these facts and the impact violence and neglect have on their community.  Many were swayed to vote no on measure 2 when they thought through how the law would impact the lives of at-risk teens, but some were not.  The No on 2 Campaign was able to close a huge gap, going from a nearly 30 point spread to within 10 points of defeating the parental notification abortion restriction. 

While in Anchorage I met some amazing activists who will be there for Alaskan teens who now face the ramifications of this new law.  It was an honor to volunteer with so many concerned Alaskans who gave the No on 2 Campaign their all and who, as a result, educated their community on the need to focus on teen health and child welfare rather than abortion restrictions.  Reproductive health care advocates will now work with the court system to help develop legal ways to assist teens within the challenging parameters of the new law. 

Alaska is stunningly beautiful, with majestic mountains and breathtaking views.  The people I met are hard working regular folk, diverse and strong and proud.  The activists I met were dedicated and determined to stand up for at-risk teens in their community. I came back home knowing that we fought the good fight and that the struggle to protect and defend reproductive justice will continue in Alaska.

Alaska’s parental notification measure will become law in a few months.  Reproductive justice advocates vow to be there for teens seeking to access the full range of reproductive health care options, including abortion services. In a statement issued after the election Christine Charbonneau, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, said –

“Last night, Alaska’s voters passed an initiative that will require teens under the age of 18 to notify their parents should they want an abortion. While we are very disappointed that we lost, the closeness of the results indicate that many Alaskans, like us, are worried about the danger laws like this pose to our most vulnerable teens. Make no mistake, Planned Parenthood will do everything legally possible to protect these vulnerable teens under this new law. Our doors will remain open to all women and men, regardless of age, who need reproductive health services.”

Doctors, counselors and Alaskan teens who are wondering how this law might affect them should visit www.teenpregnancysupport.com.

 

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Pamela Merritt on twitter: @SharkFu

  • rogueokie

    I can’t say I entirely disagree with this law.  I haven’t seen the new data but in Kansas where this law passed, abortions among teens went up there right at first.  Seems like not all parents are that supportive of forced-birth policy where their own daughters are concerned. 

     

    When I was 15 I got pregnant.  I fully intended to have that baby.  I was the child of a single parent of three, brutally poor, living in Oklahoma, where pro-forced pregnancy propaganda was heavy (and well illustrated) and accurate information about abortion was non-existent.  I was more scared of the abortion then the pregnancy, I thought I would die or wind up insane and permanently disfigured and then burn in hell. 

     

    My mother found out, (she did not kill me?!) and immediately made an appointment with a doctor and took me there.  There, I found out what my options were, including pictures of what my 3wk fetus looked like.   My mother backed my decision to abort enthusiastically, paid for it and never mentioned that money again (it was the only time she did not make me feel guilty for spending money on me).

     

    Yes, there must be some outlet for teens who can not talk to the parents, but in general, I think involving parents is good for the teen, and that family, no matter the outcome.     

     

     

     

  • jayn

    “We talked about the fact that the court is not required to keep the teens request confidential.  “Could” is not the same as “must”, and it is a valid concern that under this new law courts can notify parents that their teen has requested a judicial bypass.”

     

    *headdesk* Way to defeat the entire point.

  • carolyninthecity

    I like the idea of ensuring the parent is involved, but as it’s been mentioned many times before, the majority of teens will go to their parents anyway. Mom and dad are more then likely going to be the source of the money for the procedure and the ride to the clinic. What if a girl’s parent is anti-choice (which they are likely to be in Alaska?- maybe a generalization?) and they strongly opposed their daughter having the abortion, is there anything they could do to stop it? What’s the point in notifying a parent if they don’t have to give consent? It’s just another road block for a young girl who might have a very very good reason not to include her parents in her decision. 

  • pamela-merritt

    To clarify – the law requires parental notice OR consent before an abortion is knowingly performed or induced on a pregnant, unmarried, unemancipated women under 18 years of age or that a court has authorized the minor to proceed with the abortion without parental involvement and the minor consents. http://www.elections.alaska.gov/petitions/09PIMA/09PIMA_FINA_BILL_TEXT_modifiedperSupreme_Cts_Order.pdf

     

  • rachel-larris

    I looked at the ads on the No on Ballot 2 website and I thought the TV and radio ads didn’t go FAR ENOUGH in highlighting child abuse. I actually would have put grown up abused teens (or actors portraying them) RIGHT UP FRONT in the campaign. It’s the only way it would have won.

    Saying “it’s complicated” isn’t a great campaign idea. The ONLY way to win would have been to use the idea of child abuse as the main reason why this law is a bad idea. The “Get outside your bubble” was a great tag-line but the rest of the ads against the ballot measure seemed very complex in the arguments they were making.

  • bornin1984

    Except maybe the argument that minors should be allowed to do as they want sans parental involvement because of an occurrence which constitutes a small fraction of all abortions.

  • prochoiceferret

    Yes, there must be some outlet for teens who can not talk to the parents, but in general, I think involving parents is good for the teen, and that family, no matter the outcome.

     

    And you think that enforcing this involvement by way of the legal system, and having an “outlet” that is a difficult-to-navigate and often ill-defined legal process is a good idea?

  • prochoiceferret

    Except maybe the argument that minors should be allowed to do as they want sans parental involvement because of an occurrence which constitutes a small fraction of all abortions.

     

    So I guess you’ve got no problem with late-term abortions, about which one can say the same thing!

  • oodlenoodle

    The amount of people who refuse to believe parent-teen abuse occurs (or that informing DSHS, police, etc is a “simple process”) is just horrifying. I can’t imagine what it’s like living in a world that delusional. 

  • bornin1984

    So I guess you\’ve got no problem with late-term abortions, about which one can say the same thing!

    We make exceptions for late-term abortions, do we not? Your logic would hold that late-terms abortions should be unilaterally legal because they can be needed at times, instead of only legal when they are needed.

  • arthur-frederick

    I have no problem with late-term abortions. Until the fetus enters this world, it remains a part of the uterus which is the property of the woman. Only the woman carrying the fetus can make that choice–no one else has the right to decide for her.

    There are numerous reasons for late-term abortions. They include life endangerment, fetal indications, lack of money or health insurance, social-psychological crises, lack of knowledge about human reproduction, etc. Many late-term abortions are performed on teenage girls who did not know they were pregnant until the pregnancy began to show and they were afraid of parents and potential violence for becoming pregnant and even for having sex. Another reason for late-term abortions is that there are numerous women living subsistently in poverty, who have tried desperately to act responsibly and to end an unplanned pregnancy in the early stages, only to face insurmountable financial barriers.

    One common reason for late-term abortions is Anencephaly: a severe head disorder, occurs when the head end of the neural tube fails to close, absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Children with this disorder are born without a forebrain, the largest part of the brain. The remaining brain tissue is often exposed—not covered by bone or skin. And there is Potter’s Syndrome: there is a total absence or malformation of infant kidneys. Vast majority of babies die at birth or shortly afterwards. It bring any baby into the world with either is not only a cruelty to the parents but to the baby who has little to no chance to survive and will have a brief life of constant torment.

  • crowepps

    The law WAIVES notification if the clinic knows up front that the parent consents (as for instance when the parent brings the minor to the clinic in the first place) but does NOT require consent from parents who are notified. Basically it ‘tattles’ to the parents without allowing them to affect the decision of the minor at all, unless, of course, they track her down and can lock her up somewhere before the appointment.

     

    Personally, considering the rape rate and child sexual abuse rates in Alaska, I think they’ve opened a huge can of worms. Keep in mind also that this initiative was passed by a little over 15% of the registered voters, since voter turnout in the primary was only 27.5%.

     

    I’m sure the local illegal drug dealers will add misoprostol to their client list ASAP.

  • crowepps

    Yes, there must be some outlet for teens who can not talk to the parents, but in general, I think involving parents is good for the teen, and that family, no matter the outcome. 

    I agree that in general involving parents is good for the teen however the exceptions complicate things considerably and outcomes do matter.  If the teen is making her own decision then there are two possibilities: she may decide to get an abortion or she may decide to continue her pregnancy.

     

    Once the parents are involved there are lots of other scenarios as well:

     

    the teen may want an abortion and her conservative parents make it clear they won’t forgive her for doing so,

    the teen may NOT want an abortion and her parents pressure her into it,

    the parents (who aren’t necessarily married to each other) may disagree with each other, with one wanting the abortion and the other opposing it so that there’s a prolonged family battle,

    the parents may throw her out of the house altogether for being a ‘slut’, especially if the pregnancy was the result of incest,

    or one of the parents may beat her to death.

  • wholesalenflstore