ANCHORAGE - The Alaska health department says 0.18 percent of a health insurance program for low-income families was spent on "abortion related services" but it didn't have exact figures on how many abortions were performed.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed an expansion of Denali KidCare this week because he found out the program pays for abortions. Parnell said the program paid for "hundreds" of abortions, but the state senator who pushed for the money through the Legislature disputed that.
The health department on Friday said $384,000 of the program's $217 million budget last year went toward "abortion-related services" and 664 people received such services.
The department's deputy commissioner Bill Streur said that doesn't mean they all received abortions since that covers anyone who tells the program they are considering an abortion.
"It may or may not result in abortion. It may be a sonogram, it may be counseling that they receive," Streur told Anchorage Daily News.
Streur said Friday he's trying to confirm the actual number of abortions performed. He hopes to have a firm figure next week when a staff member who handles the data returns.
Women on Denali KidCare can get an abortion covered if a physician finds it to be "medically necessary." In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that "if the state undertakes to fund medically necessary services for poor Alaskans, it may not exclude from that program women who medically require abortions."
Denali KidCare, the Alaska version of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, covers 7,900 Alaska children.
Parnell vetoed $3 million that would have added 1,300 more children and 218 pregnant women.
The bill would have increased the qualifying income eligibility standard to 200 percent of the federal poverty line, up from 175 percent.
Proponents say Parnell was giving up as much as $2 million in matching federal money with his veto.
About 40 people gathered Friday outside the Atwood Building, where Parnell has his Anchorage office, in support of Denali KidCare.
Two Democrats running against Parnell for governor, Ethan Berkowitz and Sen. Hollis French, were at the event.
Berkowitz said if the issue for Parnell was really abortion he would have opposed all of Denali KidCare funding.
Parnell said he could not allow state government funding of abortions to be expanded.
Ralph Samuels, a Republican running for governor, said Parnell was a major force behind the bill to expand Denali KidCare and he's surprised Parnell changed his mind.
Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Friday Parnell did not realize until recently that funds from Denali KidCare specifically were going toward abortions.
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