Case: Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. State

No. 3AN-10-12279 CI | Alaska state trial court

Filed Date: Nov. 19, 2010

Case Ongoing

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Case Summary

This case concerns abortion restrictions in Alaska relating to pregnant minors and parental involvement. In 2007, the Alaska Supreme Court held a parental consent law unconstitutional because it violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause by regulating minors terminating pregnancies but not other pregnant minors. Two years after that ruling, anti-abortion activists in Alaska submitted an application for a ballot initiative to require parental notification instead. Minors seeking a…

This case concerns abortion restrictions in Alaska relating to pregnant minors and parental involvement.

In 2007, the Alaska Supreme Court held a parental consent law unconstitutional because it violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause by regulating minors terminating pregnancies but not other pregnant minors. Two years after that ruling, anti-abortion activists in Alaska submitted an application for a ballot initiative to require parental notification instead. Minors seeking abortions would be required to perform one of the following beforehand: notify one parent and wait 48 hours, obtain written consent from one parent, or obtain judicial authorization. Planned Parenthood of Alaska challenged that initiative in July 2009, the Alaska Supreme Court allowed its circulation on the ballot, and voters passed the measure in August 2010.

On November 19, 2010, Plaintiffs—comprising Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists on behalf of themselves and their minor patients—challenged the validity of this Parental Notification Law (PNL) in the Superior Court for the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District at Anchorage, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Represented by the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, plaintiffs alleged three violations of state law: the rights to equal protection, privacy, and due process of law. 

Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction was primarily denied on December 13, 2010, one day before the PNL was scheduled to take effect. The court denied the injunction because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on its central right-to-privacy and equal-protection grounds, but enjoined peripheral features thought unlikely to pass the rigorous “least-restrictive-means” test used for state legislation abridging fundamental constitutional rights.

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on March 2, 2011 that added an additional count, violation of inherent rights and due process of law. The trial court denied cross-motions for summary judgment on September 30, 2011 and held an evidentiary hearing from February 13 to March 2, 2012.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock entered an order on October 8, 2012 upholding the constitutionality of the PNL. Under the Alaska Constitution’s right to privacy clause, he found the PNL advanced the compelling state interest in familial participation in minors’ decision-making; under the equal protection clause, minors who opt for abortion remove themselves from the state’s medical emancipation law (the core rationale of which is to encourage minors to see doctors without fear of coerced parental notice) and justify modest parental involvement. Judge Suddock also receded from certain preliminary decisions while reaffirming others, on a fuller evidentiary record. First, the requirement that a parent show documentation of their relationship to the minor was held tolerably burdensome to ensure parental identity. Second, the requirement an abortion provider use “published telephone directories” to verify the parent’s phone number was tolerably burdensome since Planned Parenthood could consult governments, health aids, or directories as a reasonable safeguard against fraud. Third, the court adopted an interpretation of a notice provision to require reasonable steps to telephonically contact a parent before sending notice, rather than adherence to a strict sequence that could cause risky delays. Fourth, the criminal sanction—which made knowing violations, no matter how insignificant, a felony carrying a maximum five-year jail sentence and maximum $1,000 penalty—was held a matter addressed better in an as-applied rather than facial constitutional challenge. Fifth, the civil penalty was enjoined for leaving elements of the tort “disturbingly undefined” such that it would not serve as the least restrictive means of advancing state interest in parental involvement. Sixth, a notice-by-physician requirement was found “cumbersome and irrational” and modified so any individual designated by the physician could give notice.  Finally, the court enjoined the heightened requirement of clear and convincing evidence at judicial bypass hearings. 2012 WL 4835506.

The State and Sponsors were initially awarded trial costs, but the Superior Court later vacated those awards in February 2013, concluding both sides prevailed on a main issue.

Plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. Four years later, on July 22, 2016, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision. Justice Daniel E. Winfree, writing for the majority, articulated two questions that this case presented: first, whether the PNL violated the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee; second, if the PNL does not, whether it violates the state constitution’s privacy guarantee by unjustifiably infringing on minors’ fundamental rights. The Alaska Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative, stressing the narrow reach of its finding in light of the State’s proffered justifications of the PNL. Justice Winfree explained that even though Planned Parenthood II (171 P.3d 577; discussed here) mentioned that a parental notification law might survive a constitutional privacy challenge, it did not mean every conceivable notification law would do so or satisfy an independent constitutional equal protection challenge. Here, the parental notification law discriminated between relevant classes of pregnant minors seeking termination and those seeking to carry to term. 375 P.3d 1122. 

In this opinion, undertaking an equal protection analysis involved three steps: determining what weight to afford the constitutional interest impaired by the legislation, examining the purposes served by the legislation, and evaluating the state’s interest in the particular means employed to advance those purposes. First, the identified constitutional interest, the fundamental right of reproductive choice, demanded a strict scrutiny standard of review. Second, Justice Winfree accepted the state had asserted compelling interests in (1) aiding parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities, (2) protecting minors from risks to mental and physical health, and (3) protecting minors from sexual abuse. Third, Justice Winfree found that the PNL was not narrowly tailored to serve any of those interests. The PNL did not vindicate the state’s first interest because fostering parental involvement would extend equally to all pregnant minors, not only those seeking an abortion. Neither was the second interest sufficient to justify disparate treatment, especially since trial testimony indicated that abortion raises fewer health concerns for minors than does giving birth. Finally, Justice Winfree reasoned the state’s interest in protecting minors from sexual abuse would be the same regardless of a minor’s decision to terminate or continue their pregnancy, and no evidence existed to show pregnant minors seeking termination were more likely to have been sexually abused. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. 375 P.3d 1122.

Plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees was granted, with judgment entered on October 20, 2016 for $995,000.

Summary Authors

Emily Liu (12/28/2022)

Related Cases

Planned Parenthood of Alaska v. Campbell, Alaska state trial court (2009)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

S-15010/15030/15039

Docket S15010

Alaska state supreme court

May 13, 2013

May 13, 2013

Docket

No. 3AN-10-12279 CI

State Trial Docket

Jan. 9, 2017

Jan. 9, 2017

Docket

No. 3AN-10-12279 CI

Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

Nov. 19, 2010

Nov. 19, 2010

Complaint

No. 3AN-10-12279 CI

Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

March 2, 2011

March 2, 2011

Complaint

No. 3AN-10-12279 CI

Decision and Order

Oct. 8, 2012

Oct. 8, 2012

Order/Opinion

S-15010/15030/15039

Opinion

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. State of Alaska

Alaska state supreme court

July 22, 2016

July 22, 2016

Order/Opinion

375 P.3d 375

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:53 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Alaska

Case Type(s):

Reproductive Issues

Key Dates

Filing Date: Nov. 19, 2010

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and two board-certified OB-GYNs on behalf of themselves and their minor patients

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

Center for Reproductive Rights

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of Alaska, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Available Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Amount Defendant Pays: 995,000

Order Duration: 2016 - None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief denied

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Parental notification

Undue Burden

Reproductive health care (including birth control, abortion, and others)

Abortion

Type of Facility:

Non-government for-profit

Non-government non-profit