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Colorado Court Strikes Parental Notification for Abortion Act


August 17, 2000

Recognizing the critical need of young women facing a medical crisis to have immediate access to abortion, a U.S. District Court in Colorado today held unconstitutional a law that would have prevented pregnant teens from getting an abortion unless they notified a parent. The judge struck the law because it lacked an exception for situations in which an abortion is necessary to protect the teen's health.


The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law along with Planned Parenthood on behalf of health-care providers and their minor patients, said today's decision makes clear that the state cannot enact laws that fail to protect the health, safety, and rights of young women.


The law in question, the Colorado Parental Notification Act, makes it a crime for a physician to perform an abortion for a minor unless the doctor notifies a parent and delays the abortion by at least 48 hours. The Act contains no health exception and only an extremely narrow life exception. And, unlike similar laws across the country, the Act does not provide teens who cannot tell a parent — because they will be abused, thrown out of the house, or otherwise harmed — with an alternative.


"The law would have prevented doctors from providing critical medical care even when doing so would put minors at risk of kidney failure, seizures, and coma," said Louise Melling, Associate Director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. "We are gratified that the court recognized the danger this law posed for Colorado teens."


In its decision, the court held that the law squarely conflicted with 25 years of Supreme Court precedent requiring abortion regulations to contain an exception to preserve the health or life of the woman. The court also held that the failure of the law to include a health exception would indisputably "place some women at risk of serious health problems or even death."


"We are pleased with the ruling," said Elicia Gonzales, Senior Public Affairs Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. "At Planned Parenthood, we encourage all of our young patients to involve their parents. While most do, some cannot. Unfortunately, not every family is a model family. We are relieved that the young women of Colorado will still be able to access safe and confidential health care without being forced to involve a parent when doing so could put them in danger."


This is the second time this week that a court struck a parental notification law. On Tuesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court held New Jersey's Parental Notification Act unconstitutional, finding that it would neither foster family communication nor protect the rights and safety of young women in the state.


The case is Planned Parenthood v. Owens, No. 99-WM-60. Attorneys on the case were Louise Melling, Jennifer E. Dalven, Jody Yetzer, and Talcott Camp of the National ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Mark Silverstein, Tim Atkeson, Keri Howe for the ACLU of Colorado, representing Boulder Abortion Clinic P.C. and Warren M. Hern, M.D., and Edward T. Ramey, Blain D. Myhre, and Stacey Stern Chapman along with Kevin C. Paul of Planned Parenthood, representing Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Services Corporation, Women's Choice of Boulder Valley, Peter A. Vargas, M.D., James A. McGregor, M.D., Michael D. Rudnick, M.D., and Aris M. Sophocles, M.D.

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