Alaska Wording on abortion initiative hotly debated

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) An Anchorage Superior Court judge is expected to have a decision within a month on the wording of an abortion initiative targeted for the August ballot.

The measure would require doctors to notify a parent before a girl under 18 could have an abortion.

The Anchorage Daily News reports lawyers presented arguments Wednesday over whether the initiative is clear about penalties doctors would face.

Attorney Jeff Feldman, representing Planned Parenthood of Alaska, argued the initiative fails to make clear to voters it could land doctors in jail for five years if they don't track down a parent, verify their identification and personally tell them of the procedure.

A voter who read the ballot summary approved by the lieutenant governor would never know that, Feldman said.

Kevin Clarkson, lawyer for the initiative sponsors, including former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, said voters would be able to assume there would be consequences for breaking the law without setting out consequences in the ballot summary.

Clarkson argued Feldman was overstating the penalties, and that five years in jail or a $1,000 fine was the maximum possible. It could be a lot less, he said.

"Basically a doctor who violates this law could get a $10 fine," Clarkson argued to Anchorage Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner.

Feldman responded that wasn't realistic for a "felony exposure."

The lawyers also argued over what Feldman maintained were several other flaws in the draft initiative that combined to make it vague and misleading to voters. Clarkson said voters will be clear on the core issue: whether Alaska law should require parental notification of abortion for girls under 18.

Clarkson and an attorney representing the lieutenant governor, who also defended the initiative, asked the judge to rule by March 17 to allow enough time for an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court before ballots are printed June 3.

The sponsors have submitted what they say are the required number of signatures to get the measure on the Aug. 24 ballot. The state is verifying the signatures.

Published: Mon, Mar 1, 2010