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Alaska Senator Proposes Bill To Restrict Abortion Coverage

Alaska Senator Proposes Bill To Restrict Abortion Coverage

February 13, 2013 — Alaska Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R) on Monday introduced a bill (SB 49) that would further restrict when abortion can be covered under the state's Medicaid program, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Bohrer, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/11).

The state covers abortions under Medicaid in cases that are medically necessary or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Although the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state must fund medically necessary abortions as long as it funds other medically necessary procedures, it did not define medically necessary. The state considered the issue after proposing payment regulations, but ultimately did not clarify the term (Buxton, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 2/12).

Details of Legislation

Under Coghill's bill, the state Department of Health and Social Services would be barred from paying for abortions under Medicaid unless it falls under a new, narrower definition of medically necessary. The state would be permitted to cover abortions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest if the attack or abuse was "promptly reported" to law enforcement or public health authorities.

The bill would narrow the definition of medically necessary abortions to those needed to avoid serious risks to the physical health or life of a woman, which would be based on a doctor's "objective and reasonable professional judgment" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/11). The bill lists a number of specific cases in which an abortion would be medically necessary -- including coma, sickle cell anemia and kidney infection -- and gives some flexibility for "debilitating physical condition[s]." Coghill said he does not think mental conditions should be considered a medically necessary reason (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 2/11).

Treasure Mackley, political and organizing director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, called Coghill's bill "dangerous for Alaskan women." She added, "In a state where we have some of the highest rates of rape and incest, Coghill would force women in the most vulnerable circumstances to navigate the legal system in order to obtain the medical care they need" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/11).