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December 31. 2011 10:19PM

Parental notification law on abortion takes effect today

CONCORD — Beginning today, girls younger than 18 will have to notify a parent or guardian before they have an abortion.

New Hampshire’s new parental notification law is intended to change how minors access abortion services.

The law is similar to one legislators passed in 2003, but the U.S. Supreme Court said it failed to protect a minor’s health and sent it back to the lower courts. The new law contains the health protections.

Gov. John Lynch vetoed the law, saying it did not allow an exemption for rape, incest or abuse or allow a physician to exercise his or her best medical judgment and proceed with an abortion when a delay could create a grave and immediate risk to the minor’s health.

His veto was overridden.

The law requires that a girl’s parent or guardian be notified in person or by certified mail at least 48 hours before an abortion is to be performed. Such notification could be made by a doctor.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 329, Rep. Kathy Souza, R-Manchester, said, “We’re hoping this produces some really good results. We’ll be able to tell very rapidly.”

She said pro-life supporters are outside of the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England office in Manchester every Thursday when abortions are performed, and they see a lot of Massachusetts license plates.

“I hope (parental notification) makes a big difference for us in New Hampshire and for parents in other states,” she said. “We’re at the bottom of the list of states to have any bills related to life successfully passed.”

Barbara Hagan, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Right to Life Committee, said she couldn’t guess how many abortions the law might prevent, or additional babies that may be given up for adoption.

Hagan hopes having pregnant teens talk with their parents will lead to more child abusers being exposed.

“We know that there are many instances of where teens are being sexually abused or raped,” she said.

Documentation required

While the law’s requirements may seem simple, the documentation to prove the health provider acted within the statute is complex, said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. A provider who fails to follow the law can be charged with a misdemeanor and open to civil action by a parent or guardian.

Frizzell said her organization has been working since early fall to determine the internal protocols and procedures it will need to comply with the new law.

She said a minor will need a birth certificate or some way to prove lineage to ensure a parent or guardian is notified. Frizzell said notifying a step-parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent does not satisfy the law unless that person is a legal guardian.

A minor seeking an abortion may bring a parent or guardian to the provider to waive the notification requirement, or the minor may fill out a form that will be sent as notification.

The underlying issue is parental involvement, Frizzell said, and her organization’s records show 70 percent to 75 percent of minors already involve a parent in their decision.

“What we now have is a very heightened and complex set of documentation requirements potentially making it difficult for young women and parents,” she said. “Our primary concern is the health and safety of the young woman, and (the new law) may result in delaying care or in some cases not obtaining care in the most timely way.”

Court petition

When the girl does not want her parents involved, she petitions a superior court for a confidential hearing before a judge, who must decide whether the girl is mature enough to make her own decision, or the abortion would be in her best interest.

A minor can fill out a petition on the court system website — courts.state.nh.us — and leave it at any superior court clerk’s office during regular business hours. The site also provides information outlining the judicial bypass system.

The petition may also be mailed, emailed or left in a drop box at the court. If the petition is emailed, an answering service needs to be called to inform the court that the petition has been filed, said court spokesman Laura Kiernan. The call will begin the 48-hour period within which a judge must rule on the petition.

A hearing will be held either in person or electronically, and the judge will be required to rule within 48 hours of the petition being filed. If the judge does not rule within the 48 hours, the petition is granted automatically.

Outside of regular business hours, a judge, a backup judge and a clerk will be available to hear the petitions, Kiernan said. The petitioner will be entitled to court-appointed counsel, she said.

The day after a petition is granted, the minor can take the order or certificate to the provider. If the petition is denied, the minor can appeal to the Supreme Court with a written legal memorandum, and the court will rule within 48 hours. The minor has 30 days to file the appeal, Kiernan said.

The system will be in place beginning today, Kiernan said, but noted there may have to be modifications or changes.

Frizzell said Planned Parenthood has no intention of challenging the law before it takes effect, but “we plan to closely monitor whether or not systems developed to implement the judicial bypass are able to ensure the young woman’s constitutional rights.”

Officials say they expect somewhere between 40 and 50 minors will seek an abortion through the judicial system in the first year.


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