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Pa. newspapers petition to open sealed abortion case

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  1. Court Access
Several Pennsylvania newspapers filed a petition last Thursday seeking to open a sealed state Supreme Court abortion case, although they…

Several Pennsylvania newspapers filed a petition last Thursday seeking to open a sealed state Supreme Court abortion case, although they are not seeking the identity of the teenager involved.

The case involves a 17-year-old teenager in Allegheny County who requested permission to have an abortion from Judge Philip Ignelzi and was denied. The teen appealed the decision to the state Superior Court and was again denied. She took her appeal to the state Supreme Court, which accepted the case in August 2010. No date has been set on when the court will hear the case.

The state Abortion Control Act of 1982 allows a minor to seek permission from a judge for an abortion in lieu of parental consent, and requires all cases to be sealed to protect the identity of the minor.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, denials of bypass petitions "are rare, and the teenager's lawyer had asked Judge Ignelzi, of the Family Division of Common Pleas Court, to remove himself from the case because he had been endorsed by anti-abortion groups when he ran for judge in 2009." Some anti-abortion groups and lawmakers want the Abortion Control Act amended, claiming it allows teenagers to have "secret abortions," while civil liberty advocates believe the bypass is essential to protecting a teenager's right, the Post-Gazette reported.

The Post-Gazette, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, The (Allentown) Morning Call and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association joined in the petition to unseal the case last week. Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for PNA, said that the association filed a petition because "it is important that our members have access to the court's reasoning and decision so that they can report to the public how this decision will impact the public's right under the Abortion Control Act."

Melewsky emphasized that the newspapers "are not looking for anything that could identify the child in this case, that is not our goal at all. The only thing we want to understand is what decision the court makes, why they made that decision and how that is going to affect the interpretation of this law. Without access to the court's decision and reasoning, we really don't have an accurate picture of how this law is going to be applied to the public."