Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down New Hampshire Law Restricting Teens' Access to Abortion

November 24, 2004 12:00 am

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Boston, MA – The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood applauded a federal appeals court decision today striking down a New Hampshire law restricting teenagers’ access to abortion because it failed to protect young women’s health.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision to safeguard the young women of New Hampshire,” said Jennifer Frizzell, Public Affairs Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “By failing to make any exception when a teen’s health is in danger, this law would have jeopardized the well-being of young women seeking abortions throughout the state.”

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Concord Feminist Health Center, the Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth, and Wayne Goldner, M.D. Lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) represented the plaintiffs in their legal challenge.

“Today’s ruling follows previous court decisions – including those of the U.S. Supreme Court – which have held that a woman, regardless of her age, has a fundamental right to an abortion to protect her health,” said Claire Ebel, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

The law in question would have required health care providers to notify a parent at least 48 hours before providing an abortion to a woman under the age of 18, or for young women to obtain a court waiver of this requirement. The law contained no exception for circumstances in which the delay would seriously threaten a young woman’s health. Instead the law would have forced physicians to wait to provide emergency medical care until the young woman was facing imminent death.

“Health care providers need the freedom to perform an abortion immediately if the health of a woman is in jeopardy,” said Dara Klassel, an attorney with PPFA who argued the case. “This law would have prevented young women from getting the critical medical care they need.”

In today’s ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit noted that the Act forces physicians to “gamble with their patients’ lives. . . or to risk criminal and civil liability.”

“We are pleased that the court recognized that this law did not adequately protect young pregnant women, and struck it down accordingly,” said Corinne Schiff, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and a lawyer in the case. “And while there will certainly be pressure for the state to seek review by the U. S. Supreme Court, we would expect the Supreme Court to reach the same decision.”

The case is Planned Parenthood of Northern New England v. Heed, Case No. 04-1161. Lawyers on the case include Jennifer Dalven and Schiff of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Klassel of PPFA; Martin P. Honigberg of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC; and Lawrence Vogelman, of Shuchman, Krause & Vogelman, PLLC and Legal Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

The plaintiffs’ brief is available online at: /node/35394

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