An Alaska bill introduced last week requires doctors to terminate pregnancies in a way that affords “the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive” after the procedure, without jeopardizing the woman’s life.
SB 179 also mandates Alaska physicians to judge if a fetus is viable and outlaws abortion care in those cases. “Viability” is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on a variety of factors, but is typically considered to be around 24 weeks. Anti-choice lawmakers have attempted to ban abortion pre-viability, but courts have increasingly shot down such attempts as unconstitutional.
In addition, the bill says fetuses that are “born alive” can be turned over to the state’s care under its “children in need of aid” provision—an unusual requirement in anti-choice legislation. The bill makes exceptions to the restriction in cases of incest or sexual assault, or if “the abortion is medically necessary.”
The bill’s author, Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R-North Pole), has a lengthy record of advancing abortion rights restrictions, including a measure to narrowly define “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of Medicaid coverage that a superior court judge found unconstitutional.
“Every time you talk about abortion, there is a constitutional challenge,” Coghill told the Associated Press. “I’ve been here 18 years and 17 of those 18 years I’ve dealt with something very similar. It always goes to the Supreme Court because people think that killing babies is a constitutional right because of women’s choice.”
Alaska’s GOP lawmakers have moved to restrict abortion care by requiring parental consent and mandating state-directed counseling that includes information designed to dissuade people seeking abortion care, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In a 2015 state-by-state report card of reproductive rights, the Population Institute gave Alaska a “C” grade, in part for its high teenage pregnancy rate and for omitting family planning services from Medicaid.
Republicans hold the majority in both of the state’s legislative chambers.
Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Coghill’s bill politically motivated, unsafe, and unfounded.
“For nearly 20 years now, Senator John Coghill has tried his hardest to systematically dismantle women’s health care in the state of Alaska,” Cler told Rewire in an emailed statement. “This extreme measure would put Coghill where is he is clearly most comfortable: in an exam room between a woman and her doctor. Doctors would be forced to either abandon their professional judgment and training or face criminal penalties while denying women the care they need.”