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Abortion bill stalls in House as Alaska legislature adjourns

Laurel Andrews
EvinDC / cc via flickr

As the 2013 legislative session came to a close Sunday night, a bill seeking to define the conditions under which the state must pay for abortions remained stalled in the House over an amendment to the bill that would have provided funding for family-planning services for low-income women.

Senate Bill 49, introduced by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, attempted to define what is “medically necessary” for the purpose of payments under Medicaid, a federal program administered by the state that provides payments for medical services to low-income citizens. State data shows that in 2011, 623 of the state's 1,627 abortions -- or roughly 38 percent -- were paid for through Medicaid.

Slipped into the bill was an amendment by Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, that would have provided family-planning services, including birth control, for Medicaid eligible patients. The federal government would have picked up 90 percent of the costs of the program, Gardner said. She called the addition of the amendment a “wonderful surprise” when it passed unanimously last week in the Senate. Coghill initially objected to its inclusion, but later withdrew his objection.

The whole bill passed the Senate 14–6 and was passed on to the House, where it remained stalled as the session ended. House Finance Committee co-chairman Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, sought to bring the original bill back without the amendment, according to the Anchorage Daily News but as lawmakers debated oil-taxes during the final hours of the legislative session, time ran out to reconsider the bill. 

Abortion opponent and advocate of SB49 Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Action told the Anchorage Daily News that he would rather the bill not pass the House than have it pass with the family-planning amendment in tow.

Gardner earlier expressed disappointment over opposition to her addition to the bill. “One of the big frustrations to some of us is the very people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to contraception,” she told Alaska Dispatch last week.

The legislative session closed at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. The Legislature will convene again in January 2014, and debate over the bill will pick up where it left off in the House.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com.