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Supreme Court Rejects Parental Consent; Idaho Legislature Keeps Trying

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined on March 28 to review the case of Planned Parenthood v. Wasden, concerning the controversial Idaho state law requiring girls younger than 18 to get parental consent for abortions. By not commenting, justices upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the Idaho law because its provisions on emergency abortions were unreasonably vague and strict.

The battle over Idaho's consent law has been bouncing from court to court since 2000, when Planned Parenthood and one of Idaho's small number of doctors who perform abortions filed suit to keep Idaho lawmakers from enforcing the parental consent statute. The objection centered specifically on the definition of a "medical emergency," the only circumstance wherein a minor would not have to notify a parent before having an abortion. The law included the qualifiers that an emergency be "sudden," "unexpected" and "abnormal." Other medical legislation concerning minors has no such language, which objectors said made the law too strict.

In 2001, an Idaho district court supported the law, determining that the conditions were reasonable within the definition of a medical emergency. A Ninth Circuit court in San Francisco reversed the decision, finding that the strictness of the law was unconstitutional and that the entire parental consent statute should be voided. Following the Supreme Court's avoidance of the case, the Ninth Circuit's decision will be held as the court's final opinion on Idaho's consent law.

"As the lower court recognized, the state should not be allowed to prevent teens with serious medical conditions from getting the healthcare they need in a timely and safe manner," said Rebecca Poedy, president of Planned Parenthood of Idaho, in a prepared statement. "We are delighted that the Supreme Court has refused to reopen this case."

However, in preparation for the rejection, the Idaho Senate introduced a bill (SB 351) on March 16 calling for the reinstatement of Idaho's parental consent law-and then some. Citing the goals of "Preserving the integrity of the family unit" and "Defending the authority of parents to direct the rearing of children who are members of their household," the bill's authors once again call for parental consent in all but cases of "medical emergency," omitting the three previously debated descriptors.

In a change that is unprecedented in abortion legislation, however, the new bill would require doctors to notify parents of the emergency abortions within 24 hours of performing it. The doctors would further be required to justify, in writing, their classification of a medical emergency, as well as the reasoning for not notifying parents beforehand.

SB 351 passed a partial vote of the Idaho Senate on March 22 and as of press time had yet to receive a full Senate vote. The 2005 legislative session is expected to conclude by the end of the week.

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