Bill would create waiting period for abortions

Dyson says law would prevent regrettable decisions; opponents call it harassment

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

Doctors would have to tell women about the risks of abortion 24 hours before performing the procedure under a bill approved 12-8 Thursday by the state Senate.

The bill would require the state Department of Health and Social Services to prepare a packet of information on abortion and childbirth. Doctors would have to give that to women, or at least let them know how to get it themselves, before an abortion.

Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, sponsored the measure. A longtime foe of abortion, he said he hoped the bill would prevent women from doing something they would later regret.

He has a nearly inch-thick packet of letters from women supporting the bill, Dyson said.

"Many of them have tragic stories about their own experiences and failure to get all the information they needed when they made this very important decision," Dyson said.

But Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, said the bill is an affront to doctors, who could be sued for not complying with the terms of the bill. He said it puts an unnecessary barrier between women and their doctors.

He questioned why such elaborate consent requirements should be necessary for abortion but not for brain surgery or bone marrow transplants.

Dyson had a response to that.

"The reason abortion is different from other surgical procedures is that we're dealing with a human life," Dyson said.

Sen. Gretchen Guess, an Anchorage Democrat, said that as a woman of childbearing age, she found the bill offensive.

"It's government-sanctioned harassment," Guess said.

The bill is poorly written, she said, noting terms such as "unbiased" and "scientific" are used but not defined.

The state document would have to include phone numbers for adoption agencies and abortion clinics. It also would include a description of fetal development at various stages, including photographs.

The document would have to contain information on methods of abortion and risks of the procedures, as well as information on risks of childbirth. That information also is supposed to be unbiased and scientific.

The document would have information on assistance available to pay for prenatal care and childbirth, information on help available to pay for an abortion, and a statement that the father of a child is liable to help support the child.

A woman would have to certify in writing she received the information.

Sen. Donny Olson, a Nome Democrat and a physician, said the bill would protect him because it clearly defines what he needed to do to meet informed consent requirements.

The bill allows women to receive the information by fax, mail or Internet, Dyson maintained, so women in rural Alaska who have to travel to a city for an abortion would not have to spend an extra day there to comply with the 24-hour requirement.

Senate Bill 30 passed 12-8. Voting against it were Republicans Con Bunde and Gary Wilken, along with Democrats Bettye Davis, Johnny Ellis, Kim Elton, Georgianna Lincoln, French and Guess. Democrats Lyman Hoffman and Olson voted for it, along with 10 Republicans.

The bill could be brought up today for another vote. If the outcome does not change, the measure goes to the House.

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