One way or another, the notion of parental involvement in teenagers’ abortions has been shot down in Montana over the past several years.
Last year, it was Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his red-hot “veto” branding iron that rendered parental notification moot.
Term limits will douse Schweitzer’s branding iron, but the measure’s backers aren’t taking any chances with either his successor or the 2013 Legislature.
The required two-thirds of Montana lawmakers voted last year to back a legislative referendum that, if approved by a majority of voters this November, would require doctors to notify parents or guardians at least 48 hours before performing abortions on girls younger than age 16.
The referendum would allow girls to petition Youth Court for a waiver if they don’t want to tell a parent.
“The other side is trying hard to frame this as an abortion issue,” said Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Laurel-based Montana Family Foundation. “From our perspective, this is a case where the government has placed itself squarely between parents and children, and prevented parents from protecting their children.”
Laszloffy repeated a line, often cited during legislative debates on parental notification, that has become a key campaign refrain: that teenage girls need their parents’ permission to get their ears pierced or take an aspirin at school, but they can get an abortion without even telling them.
“This is madness, pure and simple,” states Montanans for Parental Rights, a Family Foundation Project.
Julianna Crowley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, countered that conflicts over ear piercing and aspirin don’t provoke the level of fear and despair of teen pregnancy.
“Young women don’t kill themselves because they have to ask a parent for a Tylenol,” she said.
Twenty-eight states require parental consent for a minor’s abortion, and 19 mandate parental notification, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive issues. Of the states surrounding Montana, Idaho and Wyoming require the consent of at least one parent and North Dakota requires both. South Dakota requires notification of at least one parent.
Laszloffy challenged a Planned Parenthood statistic that 80 percent of girls involve their parents in such decisions. “I’d like to see that quantified,” he said.
Actually, said Planned Parenthood of Montana spokeswoman Stacey Anderson, the correct figure is 95 percent. Of the 22 minors seeking abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics in Montana in the 2011-12 fiscal year, 21 of them told their parents, she said.
“What’s at stake is for a couple of girls every year to be placed in harm’s way by a government policy that Montanans don’t need because parents are already doing a great job,” Anderson said.
Alaska voters approved a similar initiative in 2010. On Wednesday, an Anchorage Superior Court judge upheld that law as constitutional; however, the issue is expected to wind up before the Alaska Supreme Court, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
A Lee Newspapers poll conducted last month showed 65 percent of voters support Montana’s Legislative Referendum 120, with 28 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.
“The Lee poll didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know,” Anderson said. “A lot of people have an initial reaction as parents, an appropriate reaction, but they’re not thinking about the girl down the street. That’s our job, and we want to keep those patients safe.”
Anderson said that if LR-120 is approved, “there will mostly likely be a court case.”
If that happens, it won’t be the first time. In a 1999 ruling in an abortion case, the Montana Supreme Court found parental notification unconstitutional.
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts.