WASHINGTON -- Turning aside a constitutional challenge to a recent Virginia law aimed at curbing teen-agers' abortions, the Supreme Court left states yesterday with more leeway to require that parents be told when a minor daughter seeks to end a pregnancy.
The justices did not issue a full-scale ruling on the 1997 Virginia law, but they did refuse to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that interpreted the law very broadly so that it may require parental notice from a minor mature enough to choose abortion on her own.
The lower court was the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which decides federal law issues for Maryland and neighboring mid-Atlantic states.
Its decision made clear that states have broad authority to involve parents in a minor's abortion decision, when that involvement means they have a right to be told rather than a right to absolutely veto the abortion.
The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that states must give minors the option of getting a judge's approval for an abortion when state law gives parents a veto. But, the appeals court said in the Virginia case, states are not required to establish a similar "bypass" procedure for a minor as an alternative to notifying the parents.
"The Constitution does not require for 'mere notice' statutes the full panoply of safeguards required for parental consent statutes," the appeals court said.
A state can create a judicial bypass procedure as an alternative to notifying parents, that court said, but only in cases where the parents are found to be abusive or neglectful of their daughter. Thus, even a mature minor capable of choosing an abortion for herself may still have to tell her parents, it noted.
The appeals court said it would trust the state courts in Virginia not to allow the parental notice law to be used to interfere too greatly with mature minors' abortion rights.
Virginia's parental notice law was enacted two years ago, ending an 18-year battle in the state legislature over teen-agers' abortion rights. The appeals court decision upholding that law was one of the most sweeping by a federal court in the quarter-century of court fights over teen-agers' abortions.
Clinics and doctors who perform abortions for teen-agers in Virginia challenged the ruling in their appeal to the Supreme Court, complaining that the lower court had "eviscerated the right of a mature minor to obtain an abortion independently. It imposes a new duty on every state to ensure the involvement of both parents into the private affairs of their mature daughters."
The Supreme Court gave no explanation for refusing to hear the appeal. While the order does not settle the issue as a nationwide legal matter, it does leave the impression that the justices did not think the case was worth their time.
The court acted yesterday after returning to public session after a four-week recess. Most of its actions on a long list of pending cases resulted in denials of review.
For example, the court refused to consider a plea by the Hare Krishna sect for the right to solicit money and sell religious tracts at Miami International Airport, claiming that restrictions on those activities violated its free-speech rights.
The court also declined to hear a claim by computer maker NEC Corp., a Japanese firm, that it was wrongfully accused of selling supercomputers to a U.S. research consortium at illegally low prices three years ago.
The court also refused to consider reviving a series of lawsuits seeking damages beyond the $75,000 limit set by international treaty for the terrorist hijacking of a Pan American World Airways flight in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1986.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/23/99