Abortion bill would require 24-hour wait

Doctors would have to offer adoption as an alternative

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

Abortion doctors would have to give patients information on fetal development, adoption and the health risks of abortion, and patients would have to wait 24 hours before the procedure, under a bill in the Legislature.

House Bill 30, sponsored by Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, also would allow women who have an abortion to sue their doctors for civil damages if they do not provide the information.

Opponents argue the bill is an attempt to dissuade women from having an abortion, but supporters said women need the information to make an educated decision.

The informed-consent law, as it's called, would require doctors to provide information about adoption and abortion services, counseling, a description of the procedures involved with abortion, and an explanation of the physical and psychological risks. Doctors also would have to provide patients with information on the physical and psychological risks associated with childbirth.

They also would be required to present patients with information describing, and photographs depicting, fetal development from fertilization to full term.

The proposal would give the state Department of Health and Social Services $20,000 to create a Web site that provides the information doctors are required to give their patients. The department also would develop the information doctors would have to present to their patients.

The committee hearing Saturday drew heated testimony from those on both sides of the abortion debate.

Karen Vosburgh, executive director for the Alaska Right to Life, referred to a variety of studies and statistics to argue that women are unaware of the physical and psychological risks they face. She said abortion can lead to depression, suicide, breast cancer, infertility, pelvic infections and cerebral palsy.

But those opposing the bill called the informed-consent law demeaning, and they rejected Vosburgh's statistics.

"I think this is bad legislation," said Bob Johnson, a retired doctor in Kodiak who said he has performed more than 700 abortions. "I think women should have the right to ask what they want to know and doctors should have the responsibility to tell them, and I think for legislatures and states to dictate this is stepping out of line."

Johnson argued there is no reason to force women to view pictures showing the development of the fetus, and he rejected the claims that a significant amount of women who undergo abortions suffer from depression afterward.

"Of my 700 patients there were only two that had post-abortion depression. This is considerably less than those who have postpartum depression," he said.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday morning, but Dyson said he is thinking of amending it to allow women to forgo reading the information at the clinic if they become informed through the Department of Health and Social Services Web site.

He also said he might lower the wait period from 24 hours to 12 hours. Opponents have argued that the wait period would make it more difficult for women who have to travel to cities to get an abortion.

But there have been significant changes to Dyson's bill already; an earlier version would have made it a class C felony to coerce a person into having an abortion.

Dyson said the bill is not intended to make it harder for women to have an abortion, but he acknowledged that if it became law it probably would result in fewer abortions. Dyson is one of the Legislature's most vocal anti-abortion lawmakers. Another bill filed by Dyson would restrict Medicaid payments for abortions.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat on the committee, called the bill a "step in that march toward outlawing abortion."

Ellis said he believes that there is significant support in the House and Senate for the bill, adding that this year's Legislature is more conservative than in recent years.

Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, an Anchorage Republican, has introduced companion legislation to Dyson's informed consent bill through House Bill 292.

SB 30 now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. Dahlstrom's bill awaits hearings in the House Health, Education and Social Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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