New NH law puts limits on girls' abortions
CONCORD, N.H.—Starting with the New Year, pregnant girls seeking abortions must tell their parents or get a judge's OK under a requirement reinstated by conservative Republicans over a gubernatorial veto.
It is the second time around for a parental notification law in New Hampshire and the only law regulating abortion on the state's books. In 2003, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and others sued, blocking a similar law that was fought over in the U.S. Supreme Court. That law was repealed in 2007 without ever being implemented.
Starting Sunday, pregnant girls under age 18 who want an abortion must either have a parent or guardian waive the notice requirement in writing or abortion providers will, with the girl's consent, send notice to them by certified mail, said Jennifer Frizzell, a senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood. If the girl chooses to instead ask a judge's permission, Planned Parenthood will help match her with a lawyer if she wishes help filing the request with the court.
Forty to 60 girls will choose this route annually rather than notify a parent, estimated Frizzell. Ten to 15 lawyers have agreed to help the girls, she said.
"Based on our clinicians' experience, we do not think the law will lead to more young women involving their parents than they did before the law," she said.
The law, which makes New Hampshire the 17th state in the U.S. to require parental notice, allows exceptions if a doctor determines the girl's life is at risk or if a delay would create "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily organ."
Law supporters were expecting another last-ditch effort by Planned Parenthood to block the new law, but Frizzell said no lawsuit was planned prior to the law's implementation. She said Planned Parenthood will instead monitor the law to ensure the girls' rights are protected.
"We will monitor it to make sure a minor's constitutional right to an abortion in a timely and confidential way is being fulfilled with whatever judicial bypass system is offered by New Hampshire's courts," she said.
Girls can petition the court in person or by email. If they email the request, they must call a number posted on the court website to alert the court it has 48 hours to hold a hearing and issue a ruling.
If the judge denies the girl's request, she has 30 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court, which must rule within 48 hours of receiving her petition. If the judge fails to rule within 48 hours of the girl's initial hearing, the request is automatically approved.
"This is a unique process we are setting up, and it is evolving and will continue to evolve and changes will be made to ensure access as the law provides," said court spokeswoman Laura Kiernan.
Five states require both parental notice and consent, and 22 states require parental consent, said Laura Thibault, interim executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire. Parental involvement laws in five states have been found unconstitutional and unenforceable and one is not in effect, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
New Hampshire's new law did not require that a brochure or other educational materials be produced, leaving it to doctors and the state's four clinics to help the girls. It is a misdemeanor to violate the law and grounds for a civil lawsuit. Frizzell said Planned Parenthood has been working with providers so they know what the law requires of them.
Thibault said some doctors may perform abortions for longtime, established adult patients, but not minors who will have to go to a clinic.
"If a young woman calls a doctor's office seeking pregnancy termination, you're going to be out of luck. That's the truth of it," she said.
Republican state Rep. Kathleen Souza, the law's prime sponsor, hopes the law fosters "a culture of life" and discussion between the girl and her parents.
"Once you have an abortion, there is no turning back. Your life is changed forever," she said.
Souza does not believe New Hampshire will expand the law to require parental consent, however.
"Consent transfers the right to abortion," she said. "If parents say you cannot get an abortion, what's to say parents can't say you must get an abortion?"
In 2003, New Hampshire passed a parental notification law that required abortion providers to notify at least one parent 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor. Republicans dominated the House and Senate then as now.
A federal judge declared the parental notification law unconstitutional in late 2003 because it lacked a provision to forego notification in emergencies where the health of the mother was at stake. The law's supporters tried unsuccessfully to amend it to grant some form of health exception in emergencies.
After Democrats won control in the 2006 election, they moved quickly to strip the law from the books in 2007.
Filing parental notice petitions: http://www.courts.state.nh.us