House Finance takes up abortion funding bills

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Associated Press

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 6:01 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 6:04 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The House Finance Committee voted Tuesday to remove language from an abortion funding bill that called for the state to provide broader women's health and family planning services.

The language had been added to SB49 on the Senate floor last year and offered by Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage.

The bill also seeks to further define what constitutes a medically necessary abortion for the purposes of Medicaid payments. It went before the committee on Tuesday with a companion House bill, HB173.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, the sponsor of SB49, said he objected to the amendment regarding the health program, calling it a mandate beyond services the state already provides.

The committee voted 8-3 to adopt a version of the bill without the language. Voting against were Reps. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, and Lindsey Holmes, R-Anchorage.

The bill calls on the Department of Health and Social Services to fund no abortion services under the health program unless the procedure is medically necessary or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The measure defines medically necessary abortions as those needed to avoid a threat of serious risk to a woman's life or physical health due to such things as epilepsy, congestive heart failure, coma or renal disease that requires dialysis.

It lists 21 such conditions and also offers what has been called a "catch-all" option: "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 in danger of death or major bodily impairment if an abortion is not performed."

Payment would not be made for elective abortions.

Language in the bills track closely with regulations that were approved after being proposed during the interim by state Health Commissioner Bill Streur.

The regulations are now the subject of a court challenge brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. A judge has barred their enforcement, pending trial.

The regulations include a psychiatric disorder that places a woman in "imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function" if an abortion is not performed. That provision is not included in the bills.

Much of the testimony before the committee was in opposition to the bills. Joshua Decker, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, said the bills raised constitutional questions. Others called it a government intrusion and a waste of time, given the court challenge.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, who's sponsoring the House bill, said she didn't see it as a "pro-life" or "pro-choice" bill but rather as a fiscal bill.

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