Abortion opponents are suspicious that loopholes exist in a new state law requiring minors to obtain parental permission before ending a pregnancy.
Attorney Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy said forged signatures and lax reporting requirements could be weakening the law, which went into effect in March after 13 years of court battles and modifications.
No state oversight or notary verification is mandated to ensure the signatures on the consent forms are valid.
State Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa, said she would consider amending the law in the 2004 legislative session to require notarized signatures on the forms.
“I think we need to take a look at it and see what’s really happening there,” Jarrett said.
The question of potential problems was raised after Tribune research revealed that relatively few minors had sought court approval for abortions in the last six months.
Under the new law, underage girls wanting to keep a parent or legal guardian in the dark about their decision can seek a Superior Court judge’s confidential permission for the abortion. While a few hundred minors have likely received abortions so far this year in Maricopa County, only 27 minors in the county have petitioned judges to allow them to have abortions.
“It’s an amazingly small number,” said Christopher Mrelo, assistant register of vital statistics for the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Three minors were denied abortions by the judges, who attempt to decide whether the girl is mature enough to make the decision on her own. In Pima County, which has the state’s second-highest number of abortions, just seven court petitions for abortions were filed, with all being approved.
Both Herrod and Jarrett said it strains credibility to believe all but 27 minors in the county who received abortions received written permission from their parents.
“I’m skeptical that verification is being done,” Herrod said. “The numbers raise some troubling questions.”
Another part of the problem is that abortion in general is thought to be vastly underreported. Though doctors and clinics are legally obligated to report the abortions they perform, no one holds them accountable if they fail to do so, Mrelo said.
In 1998, when legislators threatened to tighten regulations on abortions, Mrelo said, there was a spike in the number of abortions reported — 14,606. In the years since, the numbers have dropped back to more average levels of about 9,000 or 10,000 per year.
Planned Parenthood provides most of the reporting, he said.
Bryan Howard of Planned Parenthood disagreed that the new law has had much effect.
Of 279 minors who received abortion procedures at Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, which includes facilities in Maricopa County, 93 percent submitted signed parental consent forms, Howard said. The rest had a judge’s approval, he said.
If Planned Parenthood clinicians believe the signature is bogus, they may call a parent or ask minors to bring in a copy of their parent’s driver’s license, he said.
Howard said that about 80 percent of minors who had abortions before March came in with their parents.
“We’re not talking about a sweeping change,” he said.
He acknowledged that figure is only an estimate because Planned Parenthood did not track that information before March.
Nancy Bennett, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Oregon, said 60 percent to 70 percent of minor patients report that they informed a parent of their intent to get an abortion. Oregon does not require parental consent, and the clinics don’t verify whether the minors are telling the truth, she said.
Others believe less than half of minors may have informed their parents before the law changed that they were considering, or had obtained, an abortion.
Arizona State University student Jacinta Anaya, 22, said she knew two people who had obtained abortions as minors a few years ago, and neither told a parent.
“I think it’s really doubtful that most people would,” said Nikki Hoover, 18, another ASU student.