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Abortion bill drops reporting provision

Posted: February 17, 2013 - 1:16am

JUNEAU — A revised version of a bill that would define “medically necessary” abortions was introduced in the Alaska Senate on Friday, removing a reference to having cases of rape or incest “promptly reported” to authorities.

SB49, from Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, pertains to which abortions Alaska must pay for under the state Medicaid program. The initial version called for the Department of Health and Social Services to not pay for abortion services under the program unless those abortions are medically necessary or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest and the rape or incest was “promptly reported” to law enforcement or public health authorities.

Coghill, in a news release Friday, said he intended for the bill to follow the language in the Hyde amendment, which bans all federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the woman is at risk. When he realized it did not, he said he filed a sponsor substitute for the bill.

Some Democratic lawmakers and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest had blasted the reporting requirement as dangerous for women in a state with high rates of sexual assaults.

“Though the removal of the insensitive requirements for victims of sexual assault is one step forward, the fact of the matter is this bill still places politicians between women and their doctors,” said Treasure Mackley, political and organizing director at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. “Restricting access to state-funded abortion is blatant government overreach and would restrict our fundamental right to privacy and equality protected by the Alaska Constitution.”

Mackley, in a statement, said the bill “remains dangerous for Alaskan women because the result will be to eliminate pregnancy options and compromise low-income women’s health and well-being.”

The Alaska Supreme Court has held the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds other procedures deemed medically necessary for people in need. Coghill said that with his bill, he is seeking to clarify “under which circumstances it is appropriate for the people of Alaska to pay for an abortion.”

The bill would define “medically necessary” abortions as those needed to avoid serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health. That could mean a serious risk of death or “impairment of a major bodily function” due to such things as renal disease that requires dialysis; congestive heart failure; coma; or “another physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy” that places the woman’s health at risk. Payment would not be allowed for “elective” abortions.

“We asked doctors and lawyers what they would recommend and what would follow the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision,” Coghill said. “Senate Bill 49 gets that definition as clean and clear as it can be so that we can answer that constitutional question in a way that’s fair for all Alaskans.”

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