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North Pole Sen. Coghill aims to cut abortion funding

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Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 12:08 am | Updated: 8:28 am, Tue Feb 12, 2013.

JUNEAU — True to his word, Sen. John Coghill introduced legislation aimed at curtailing public funding for abortions on Monday.

Coghill’s bill lays out guidelines for what could be considered a medically necessary abortion, leaving out provisions for mental health conditions, to deal with what he feels are state-funded elective abortions.

The state provides Medicaid-eligible women with publicly funded abortions in cases that are considered medically necessary or in cases where the abortion was the result of rape or incest. In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it uses public dollars on other procedures for people in need.

However, Coghill says the term “medically necessary” has given too much leeway.

“That is the crux of the matter,” he said. “We’re not going to answer a constitutional argument on abortion, the only question we’re going to answer is when is it medically necessary and when is it elective.”

His bill states a “medically necessary” abortion requires a physician’s objective professional judgement to prove it’s required to avoid serious risk to the life or physical health of the woman.

It outlines a number of cases including coma, sickle cell anemia and kidney infection and gives some flexibility for other “debilitating physical condition.” Coghill said he worked with doctors to formulate the list.

As to the lack of coverage for mental conditions, Coghill said he’s not convinced they should be covered.

“The emotional impact could be debated in other venues, but is it a reason for the public to pay for it? I doubt it,” he said.

Such an attempt to define medically necessary abortions by the administration last summer was deemed to be likely unconstitutional through a departmental review because it violates the state’s equal protection clauses.

The bill drew immediate opposition from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.

“Coghill is blatantly inserting politicians and the government into women’s decision making, he’s putting women’s health at risk and he’s doing this at time when as a senator he should be focusing on the issues that matter to Alaskans most,” said Treasure Mackley, the organization’s

political and organizing director. “Sen. John Coghill’s bill (S 49) is dangerous for Alaskan women.”

With Republicans in control of every chamber of the Alaska Legislature after the November elections, Coghill said he believes his bill will get an honest look.

“It’s better than before, I have at least six co-sponsors and I have a Senate that’s more open to the discussion before,” he said.

Co-sponsors include Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly.

According to statistics from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, nearly 40 percent of abortions were paid for with public dollars in 2011, the most recent year statistics were available.

Of the 1,627 abortions in Alaska, 623 were paid for by Medicaid.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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