Medical Providers and Reproductive Rights Groups Applaud Court Decision Overturning New Hampshire Parental Notification for Abortion Law

December 29, 2003 12:00 am

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CONCORD, NH -The United States Federal District Court in Concord today declared New Hampshire’s recently enacted parental notification law unconstitutional, ruling in favor of a group of New Hampshire medical providers who claimed that the law violated a young woman’s fundamental right to an abortion in order to protect her health, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

“”We are delighted with the court’s decision to protect the young women of New Hampshire,”” said Jennifer Frizzell, Public Affairs Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), one of the plaintiffs in the case. “”This law would have endangered the health and lives of young women seeking abortions in New Hampshire. We’re pleased that the court realized this and ruled the law unconstitutional.””

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Concord Feminist Health Center, the Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth, and Wayne Goldner, M.D.

“”The New Hampshire legislature was repeatedly advised that any law delaying a woman’s access to abortion must contain a health exception,”” said Claire Ebel, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. “”Unfortunately, lawmakers ignored this directive, but the court moved to protect the health and rights of our daughters.””

The law, which was scheduled to take effect on December 31, required health-care providers to notify a parent at least 48 hours before providing an abortion to a young woman under the age of 18. The law contained no exception for circumstances in which the delay would seriously threaten a young woman’s health. And even in cases where a minor’s life was threatened, the law required physicians to delay a life-saving abortion until they could certify that the abortion was necessary to prevent the minor’s imminent death.

“”Today’s ruling joins an unbroken line of cases stretching over 30 years, in which courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have held that a woman has a fundamental right to an abortion to protect her health,”” said Dara Klassel of PPFA, one of the lawyers in the case.

A similar Colorado law was struck down last year by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, precisely because it lacked a health exception.

In today’s decision, the court declared the law unconstitutional, in part because it “”does not comply with the constitutional requirement that laws restricting a woman’s access to abortion must provide a health exception.”” Based on the law’s unconstitutionality, the court issued an order preventing enforcement of the law.

“”This law would have prevented sick young women from getting critical medical care,”” said Jennifer Dalven, Deputy Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and a lawyer in the case. “”We are grateful that the court recognized that the government isn’t allowed to stand in the way of doctors acting to protect their patients’ health.””

Lawyers on the case include Dalven and Corinne Schiff of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Klassel of PPFA; Martin P. Honigberg of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC; and Lawrence Vogelman, Legal Director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

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

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