Abortion waiting period bill is unfair

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

We strongly disagree with your recent editorial that favored forcing women in Alaska who are seeking an abortion to endure a 24-hour waiting period and forcing doctors to give them what would certainly be biased counseling.

As directors of the Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition, we must again express our disappointment that the Empire has evolved into a mouthpiece for Right to Life organizations and that you refuse to support the basic privacy rights of women.

House Bill 329, which embodies the proposals favored in your editorial, shows profound and unnecessary distrust in Alaska women and their doctors. We believe strongly that government should refrain from interfering in medical decisions and let women make such decisions in the privacy of their doctors' offices.

Bills that mandate 24-hour waiting periods and biased counseling are strongly advocated by anti-abortion extremists. Their agenda is to stop all abortions by making them difficult or impossible to get. It's common knowledge in the pro-choice community that 24-hour waiting periods, like the one proposed in this bill, are designed to force women to confront shouting protesters at least twice at the door of abortion clinics.

Protesters use the opportunity to collect license plate numbers and identify patients. In the intervening 24 hours they harass patients at home and try to interfere with their plans or decisions. All sense of privacy is lost for the patient.

A 24-hour waiting period is especially restrictive in a state like Alaska, where women from virtually all but a few communities are forced to travel great distances to Anchorage, Seattle or elsewhere to obtain an abortion. Women who live in communities where there is no abortion provider - such as Juneau, Fairbanks and virtually all Bush villages - must travel to Anchorage or Seattle. The 24-hour waiting period adds to the length and expense of the trip with extra hotel, food and child-care costs and, no doubt, lots of extra stress.

It's quite common that 24-hour waiting periods really turn out to be longer because not all clinics provide daily services. Such waits can force women to delay an abortion until the second trimester of a pregnancy, which doctors say will increase the risk of complications.

The bill also mandates biased counseling of women in order to talk them out of an abortion. The requirement in the bill to provide information and photos of the physiological characteristics of the fetus reminds our group of the Right to Life exhibits at the state fair. Right to Life organizations and their allies, such as the Empire, ignore the legal issue of fetal viability and, instead, seek to toy with the emotions of women by confronting them with pictures of fetuses. Forcing rape and incest victims to endure this is particularly insensitive and outrageous.

Our Legislature, and the Juneau Empire editorial board, should be addressing the real problems in Alaska. This bill would accomplish nothing but to invade the privacy of desperate women and encourage protesters to harass them.

The Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition Board of Directors are Shannon O'Fallon, Karen Allen, Amber Ceffalio, Shari Kochman, Debra Schorr, Michael Powell, Rebecca Braun, Beth Lape, Yvonne Young, Karl Ashenbrenner and M.J. Hinman.



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