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On the topic of women's rights and abortion

Posted: March 5, 2014 - 1:00am

Last week was not a good one for Alaska women — especially for those who are poor and/or abused.

First, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty, the person who is supposed to be a leader in the governor’s Choose Respect campaign, told a legislative committee that the a reason for low prosecutions is “ ... many victims don’t want to (testify) — they change their mind. It may have all been a, not a prank necessarily, but a vindictive move by the victim to get back (at) her, at the perpetrator — her husband or a significant other, whatever.”

Those of us who have worked as victim advocates know absolutely that there are good reasons victims recant or don’t testify. Fear of retaliation, loss of financial stability, the wellbeing of their children and their own wellbeing are common and valid worries.

I find it stunning that the top lawyer in the state can’t articulate this but instead turns the blame back on victims. I’m pretty sure the point of the Choose Respect campaign is to change those attitudes.

Then SB49, a bill restricting access to abortion for poor women, passes out of House Finance by one vote, and among the “Yes” votes was that of Juneau’s Rep. Cathy Muñoz.

This bill sets a very narrow definition of what constitutes a medically necessary abortion.

Right now, for poor women to get medical assistance for an abortion, a doctor has to certify that it is medically necessary. Some members of the legislature evidently believe doctors are lying when they sign those forms, so it’s up to the government to establish this narrow list of medical conditions. As a reason for her vote, Rep. Muñoz was quoted by the Juneau Empire in a Feb. 28 article saying “It’s clear to me that more abortions are happening than are medically necessary.”

Here’s the deal with that — there is no evidence, other than conjecture, that doctors are lying. The Department of Health and Social Services has not made this claim. Anti-choice activists are saying it, but does that make it true? Just as insulting, the allowable medical conditions are extremely restrictive and do not include mental health. And here we are with the nation’s highest suicide rate.

Senator John Coghill sponsored SB49. He is a nice man, but one whose stated goal for becoming a legislator is to end abortion. He says this bill is about finances, not limitations on abortion.

I don’t buy it.

This is all about limiting choice, but only for poor women because choice is legally available in this country.

Then, adding insult to injury, the House finance committee, again with the help of our own Rep. Muñoz, stripped out a part of the bill that would have given women with lower incomes coverage for family planning services. I do believe that more access to contraception means fewer abortions. It just makes good sense.

All in all, these are giant steps backward for Alaska women with no discernable steps forward.

• Chris Ashenbrenner is a lifelong southeast Alaskan, retired from a career spent working to assist needy Alaskans and survivors of violence. She is a former Executive Director for the State of Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this piece stated "I don't believe that more access to contraception means fewer abortions." In fact, Ashenbrenner believes the opposite. The Empire regrets the error. 

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Art Petersen
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Art Petersen 03/05/14 - 09:53 am
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It's always interesting

to know the voting record of legislators on issues affecting women, especially those who are at a disadvantage and who could benefit from basic social services. And it's always surprising when legislators who are women vote against these services. It's been argued that gender should have nothing to do with legislative decision making. Maybe so. But there is still something disconcerting and sad when compassion for and understanding of those most in need because of their gender are voted against by members of their own gender.

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