Abortion-consent suit filed to overturn a pair of notification laws

2013-05-31T00:00:00Z 2013-05-31T22:03:25Z Abortion-consent suit filed to overturn a pair of notification lawsBy Mike Dennison of The Standard State Bureau Montana Standard

HELENA – Planned Parenthood of Montana filed suit Thursday to overturn a pair of laws requiring an under-age girl to get parental approval or notification before having an abortion in Montana – including one law passed last year by Montana voters.

Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions in Montana, said the laws violate Montanans’ right to privacy and unconstitutionally discriminates against girls who would choose to have an abortion.

The lawsuit filed in state District Court in Helena targets two recently passed laws:

One passed by Montana voters in 2012 requiring any girl under 16 to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion. The law, passed as a referendum placed on the ballot by the 2011 Legislature, took effect in January. It passed with 70.5 percent of the voters in favor.

A bill passed by the 2013 Legislature that would supersede the current law, requiring all girls under 18 to get notarized parental consent before having an abortion. The law is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The suit asked District Judge Mike Menahan to block enforcement of the second law as of July 1 and void both of them as unconstitutional.

Stacey Anderson, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, said her group wants teen-agers to talk to their parents about sexuality, but that some are unable to do so.

“The sad truth is that some teens live in dangerous homes and can’t go to their parents,” she said. “The intent of (these laws) is to make it extraordinarily difficult for girls from abusive families to get access to health care.”

Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, said through a spokesman that he’ll “defend these laws vigorously at every stage of the process.”

“Montana’s voters and duly elected representatives have made it very clear they want the parental notification and consent laws on the books,” said John Barnes, spokesman for Fox.

Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, who sponsored the bills leading to both laws, said Thursday that Montana voters and a majority of the Legislature simply feel that parents should have to be notified or give their approval before their under-age child can have an abortion.

“You can’t get your ears pierced, you can’t play high school sports, you can’t get any (other) medical procedure … without parental consent, let alone notification,” he said. “There are limits to privacy for our children.”

The parental-consent law passed in April, on a 52-48 vote in the House and 28-21 in the Senate. Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat opposed to the law, let it become law without his signature so Planned Parenthood could challenge it in court.

His action voided another bill that would have sent the issue to Montana voters as a referendum in 2014.

The parental-notification rule became law after Montana voters approved Legislative Referendum 120 last November. The 2011 Legislature, controlled by Republicans, chose to send the issue to voters instead of passing a bill, which faced a likely veto by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Thursday’s lawsuit noted that a Montana court in 1995 threw out a parental-notification law as violating minor women’s right to end their pregnancy — and said the current attempts to restrict abortion violate the same constitutional principles.

A teen-age girl who’s pregnant and decides to have the baby doesn’t have to notify her parents and childbirth is much riskier than abortion, the suit said.

“The requirements of these laws will make it very difficult for some minors to obtain abortions and will prevent entirely other minors from doing so,” wrote attorney Tanis Holm of Billings.

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