In Light of Yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Alaska Attorney General Withdraws Appeal in Alaska Civil Liberties Union Case, Lets Stand Lower Court Ruling That So-Called "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban is Unconstitutional

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
June 29, 2000 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Civil Liberties Union today applauded the State’s decision to withdraw its pending appeal in the Alaska Supreme Court and let stand a Superior Court ruling that Alaska’s statute banning so-called “partial birth” abortions is unconstitutional. Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law yesterday, Alaska’s Attorney General Bruce Botelho announced that he would withdraw the State’s appeal in the AkCLU’s case. Botelho told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, “It is my view that the decision striking down the Nebraska law has direct implications for Alaska’s law. Consequently, I am instructing our attorneys to dismiss our appeal.”

Joining the overwhelming majority of lower courts around the country to have ruled on this issue, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday denounced a similar Nebraska ban’s sweeping prohibition on safe and common abortion methods as depriving women of their constitutional rights and endangering their health. In Stenberg v. Carhart, a 5-4 decision, the Court reaffirmed its prior holdings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices are protected by the Constitution. The Court held that the Nebraska ban violated the federal Constitution because the ban lacks any exception for the preservation of the health of the mother and because the ban imposes an undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose particular types of abortion, thereby unduly burdening the right to choose abortion itself.

Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, stated, “We agree with the Attorney General’s analysis, and we applaud his sensible decision to drop the State’s appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.”

Rudinger stated that Alaska’s statute was even more restrictive of women’s rights than the Nebraska law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. She added, “The Alaska Constitution provides even stronger protection than does the federal Constitution for the privacy rights of Alaskans, including the rights of Alaskan women to make their own decisions with respect to abortion and other matters of reproductive freedom. It was a foregone conclusion that Alaska’s ban would not survive constitutional scrutiny.”

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy hailed the State’s decision. The groups filed suit in 1997 on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Alaska and several Alaskan pro-choice organizations and doctors who feared that an Alaska law, similar to the Nebraska law, was so vaguely drafted that it had the purpose and effect of prohibiting most abortions.

An injunction issued in 1997 prevented the Alaska ban from taking effect. In early 1998, the Anchorage Superior Court struck down the ban, ruling that it violates a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive decisions and her right to privacy under the Alaska Constitution. The Superior Court found that Alaska’s law was so vague that it could apply to virtually all of the safest, most common abortion procedures used prior to fetal viability and that this vagueness was a deliberate attempt by the legislature to scare doctors from performing legal abortions for fear of prosecution.

The Alaska case is Planned Parenthood of Alaska, et al. v. State of Alaska. Attorneys in the case are Steve Williams in Anchorage, as an AkCLU Cooperating Attorney, and Janet Crepps, a former Alaska attorney now living in South Carolina, with the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy.

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