Saturday, February 2, 2002

Hospitals agency faces
suit over abortions for minors

A new policy requires parental
consent for girls under age 18

By Mary Adamski

The agency that manages state hospitals faces possible legal action over a new policy that requires a minor to have parental consent to get an abortion in any of the 12 facilities.

Some state lawmakers, who have parental consent bills before them, said the policy is not backed by state law and is a matter for the Legislature to address rather than Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

And Alice Hall, legal counsel of the state-affiliated corporation, said yesterday that Planned Parenthood of Hawaii has indicated it will go to court to block the policy.

Hall declined to discuss the policy, issued Jan. 14, which covers girls who have not reached 18 years of age except those considered "emancipated" minors because they are married. "Because Planned Parenthood said they are bringing legal action, we are not going to comment further," she said.

"This issue is one more proper for the Legislature and not HHSC to address," said state Rep. Blake K. Oshiro (D, Red Hill-Aiea) in a memo yesterday to colleagues on the House Health Committee. "Absent legislation and specific guidelines, HHSC cannot ... unilaterally limit a minor's right to abortion."

House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley-Kamehameha Heights) said, "It should be left to the Legislature."

He said a state attorney general's opinion, drafted last year at lawmakers' request, "is pretty clear. Basically it says that even though statutes are silent, because we afford special protection to women, that it should cover minors. The right to abortion is there, as opposed to parental right to consent."

But the Senate Health and Human Services chairman, David Matsuura (D, South Hilo-Puna), applauded the hospital corporation policy and said it is supported by the same 2001 attorney general's opinion.

"We found out we had parental consent on the books," said Matsuura. The opinion referred to a law on the books that specifically identifies medical treatments for which no parental consent is required. Abortion is not one of them.

"The attorney general is the attorney for all state agencies," Arakaki said. "They may go tell the agency to back off."

Hawaii Health Systems Corp. was established by the Legislature in 1996 to manage the hospitals formerly administered by the state Department of Health.

"If (the corporation) continues to require parental approval, an individual would have to pursue it if she were denied the right. Maybe that's a good thing. It would clarify the matter," Arakaki said.

Planned Parenthood of Hawaii Chief Executive Officer Barry Raff could not be reached for comment.

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