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Health commissioner defends new abortion rules

Lisa Demer

Alaska's health commissioner says the state is not trying to restrict access to state-funded abortions with new criteria that specifies the state will pay only if the health of the mother would otherwise be "endangered."

In a letter this week, commissioner William Streur said the proposed new rule draws on "the exact verbiage used four times by the Alaska Supreme Court in its July 27, 2001, opinion." The court ruled that if the state covers prenatal care for low-income pregnant women, it also must cover abortion services.

Streur was addressing concerns raised by state Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat and chairman of the Legislature's administrative regulation review committee.

"Specifically, the proposed regulations restrict the phrase 'medically necessary' to medical care given when the health of the mother is 'endangered' and a woman is choosing to terminate a pregnancy, without applying this same 'endangerment' restriction to medical care given when a woman chooses to continue a pregnancy," French wrote in a July 27 letter to Streur.

The proposed rules are likely to be found unconstitutional, French wrote.

Streur responded that the state is still evaluating public comments on the proposal and may change the language. If the proposal is ultimately adopted, the court will determine whether it's unconstitutional, he wrote.

At any rate, the health department will rely on a doctor's professional judgment for whether an abortion is needed, Streur wrote.

The state wants to collect additional information from doctors on abortions in order to see if any qualify for federal funding, which is limited to cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is danger. The state pays for those that don't meet that standard if they are medically necessary. The state doesn't want to pay for elective abortions, Streur has said.

State officials weren't prepared to answer questions on the proposal Wednesday, even to say how many public comments had been received by the deadline on Tuesday.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

Anchorage Daily News