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Abortion notification law faulted in ruling

CONCORD, N.H. -- A law requiring parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court said yesterday in a decision that backed a lower court's ruling.

The US Court of Appeals affirmed US District Judge Joseph DiClerico's ruling, which threw the law out because it lacked provisions for an exception in the event of a medical emergency.

DiClerico ruled just two days before it was to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2003. That ruling came after the law was challenged by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and other women's health care providers.

''We're pleased with the court's decision to safeguard the young women of New Hampshire," said Nancy Mosher, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. ''It would have jeopardized the well-being of women in New Hampshire who might have an urgent medical situation."

Lawyers for the state argued that the law, while missing an explicit health exception, included a provision allowing a girl to bypass parental notification if a judge decided an abortion was in her best interest.

Governor Craig Benson lobbied heavily for the law, which passed in May 2003. His spokeswoman, Alicia Preston, said yesterday that the governor was dismayed by the court's decision.

''It's not about abortion rights, it's about parental rights," she said. She said Benson, who leaves office in January, would continue to work for parental rights in the future.

Yesterday's ruling isn't likely to be challenged, said Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

What is harder to predict is whether there will be a push to write a new notification law that would pass constitutional muster, Ebel said.

''The legislature was informed by those of us who opposed the parental involvement statute that such a law can be constructed constitutionally, and they had no interest in so doing," she said.

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