Challenge to new state abortion law now a federal case
Whether or not minors in Colorado must notify their parents before seeking an abortion is now in federal hands.
In November, state voters passed a ballot initiative making it illegal for doctors to perform abortions on minors without parental notification.
On the heels of the successful passage of Amendment 12, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains filed a lawsuit in Boulder County District Court to overturn the notification law on constitutional grounds.
However, due to the basis of the suit’s argument, the state Attorney General’s office decided to move the case from state to federal jurisdiction last week.
“While it regards a state amendment, it’s still a matter that involves federal constitutional scrutiny,” explained Ken Lane, director of legal policy at the attorney general’s office. “There were no objections and it just made sense since it probably would have been appealed to federal court anyway.”
At the Grand Junction branch of Planned Parenthood, clinic manager Kaci Bishop hopes that federal judges will recognize the precarious position into which Amendment 12, in effect since Dec. 31, puts minors.
“At Planned Parenthood we always encourage parental involvement and we are complying with the notification law,” Bishop said. “But our position has always been that when minors don’t feel they can talk to their parents, there’s usually a very good reason.”
The change of venue doesn’t automatically signify an advantage or disadvantage for either side of the case, said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Ellen Brilliant.
“It’s too early to tell how the case will fare in federal court. But we still feel very confident that Amendment 12 will be found unconstitutional,” Brilliant said.
A strong proponent of parental notification, however, feels that the move to federal venue will expedite the final resolution of the notification debate in Colorado.
“From our vantage point, it takes out several steps,” said Gary Rogers, president of the Colorado Pro-Life Alliance and co-sponsor of Amendment 12. “This way it will be a substantially shorter appeals process and we’ll see the implementation of the law that much sooner.”
Since Dec. 31, minors have been required to notify their parents before seeking an abortion throughout the state except for Boulder County.
As the county where the suit was filed, Planned Parenthood simultaneously secured a court injunction disallowing the implementation of Amendment 12 until a verdict is reached on the initiative’s constitutionality.
“Of course we’re relieved that at least there’s one county where minors can secure a safe and confidential abortion,” Brilliant said. “Right now we’re anticipating a hearing on a statewide restraining order very soon.”
Rogers, who expected a statewide injunction straight off the bat, says that he’s encouraged by the fact that only Boulder County has one in place.
“I’m very pleased and surprised that the injunction is limited to Boulder County,” Rogers said. “I think it’s a good sign for us.”
Lane, of the attorney general’s office, called the Boulder injunction a “significant step” for Planned Parenthood, but stressed that the measure is not unusual in constitutional suits. As of yet, schedule has not been set for the case, Lane said.
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