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AK Beat: Planned Parenthood sues over 'medically necessary' abortion definition

Alaska Dispatch

Planned Parenthood sues to block Alaska regulations: Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest filed a lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court Wednesday over regulations that would define what constitutes a "medically necessary" abortion in Alaska. The Associated Press reports that Planned Parenthood argues that the regulations circumvent a 2001 Alaska Supreme Court decision that state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds medically other medical services for others with financial needs. With the new regulations, doctors must now certify that the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or that woman's health was seriously threatened in order to use Medicaid funds. The regulations are scheduled to take effect Sunday.

Alyeska set to reopen Thursday: After an unusual January heat wave in Alaska, the chair lifts at Alyeska Resort will be running once again by Thursday, the resort reported. The Girdwood ski spot was forced to shut down several times in the last week -- including a three-day stretch from Monday to Wednesday this week -- because of balmy temperatures in the Last Frontier causing less than ideal skiing and snowboarding conditions. The Glacier Bowl Express, Aerial Tramway, Ted’s Express, Bear Cub Quad and both magic carpets will reportedly be ready for skiers and snowboarders to shred. Riders are encouraged to check out the snow report before heading out.

Parts of Richardson Highway reopen: The Richardson Highway was opened north of mile 18 Wednesday afternoon but remained closed from mile 12 to 18 due to a lake behind the avalanche dam in Keystone Canyon that was preventing crews from clearing debris, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities reported. DOT continued to monitor receding lake levels. Roughly 1,500 feet of the roadway remained submerged Wednesday morning. Temperatures in Valdez had dropped to the low 20s, which officials said earlier in the week would help to stabilize snowpack on the mountain. The highway remains closed until further notice.

Alaska hunting guide pleads guilty to several violations: A big game guiding business owner from Verdale, Wash., pleaded guilty Friday to multiple violations stemming from a series of hunts in Alaska four years ago. Alaska State Troopers say Michael C. Vanning entered a plea agreement in response to misdemeanor charges filed in several state jurisdictions -- Kotzebue, Fort Yukon, Fairbanks and Sand Point -- more than two years ago. Vanning pleaded guilty to two cases in return for the state dropping the others. He allegedly wasted and failed to salvage game while also failing to supervise and partake in contracted hunts with clients. Vanning reportedly agreed to permanently hand over his registered guide-outfitter license and was fined $90,000, with $80,000 suspended. Vanning owned Gateway Guiding Inc. and operated sheep hunts in the Brooks Range, brown bear hunts in Western Alaska and moose hunts near the Seward Peninsula. Despite his credentials, this is Vanning’s third sentencing as a guide. He was charged in 1998 and 2007, and in April 2011, his license was revoked for two years and his Supercub airplane was forfeited to the state. All three investigations into Vanning’s activities were conducted by the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. 

Valdez avalanche cleanup continues: The Richardson Highway remained closed Wednesday morning north of Valdez from mile 12 to 42 as Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities continued to clear slide debris at mile 39 and monitor lake levels behind the avalanche dam in Keystone Canyon. Lake water was receding, and roughly 1,500 feet of the roadway remained submerged Wednesday morning, DOT reported. Temperatures in Valdez had dropped to the low 20s, which officials said earlier in the week would help to stabilize snowpack on the mountain. The highway remains closed until further notice.

Kikkan for Olympic flag bearer: With the start of the Winter Olympic Games only days away, chatter is starting over who will carry the U.S. flag during the opening ceremonies in Sochi. NBC Sports has compiled a list of favorites, and is asking people to vote. Included in the list is Alaska's skiing sweetheart, Kikkan Randall, who is favored to win gold in cross-country skiing -- which would make her the first American to ever do so. Other suggested nominees include snowboarder Shaun White, downhill skier Bode Miller and ski jumper Lindsay Van. In 2012 luge racer Mark Grimmette carried the flag for the United States at the Vancouver opening ceremony. 

More changes for Quest course: Thinner than usual ice conditions on the Chena River have made organizers of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race move the race’s official start from the river where it flows through downtown Fairbanks to nearby Second Avenue, according to a press release from the race committee. The release cited “concern for having 2-3,000 spectators on the ice” under conditions created by unseasonably warm temperatures affecting Interior Alaska, as well as much of the rest of the state. The Yukon Quest’s finish line will also be moved -- from it’s usual place on the Yukon River where it flows through Whitehorse, Yukon -- to the Takhini Hot Springs, off the North Klondike Highway  north of the territory’s capital. This news comes on the heels of a decision to re-route a portion of the trail from the “impassible” American Summit to the Yukon River between Eagle, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon.

Ketchikan altercation leads to grow op bust: What began as a fight ended in the bust of a marijuana grow operation in Ketchikan Tuesday afternoon, according to Alaska State Trooper Reports. Troopers reported responding to reports of a disturbance between two men at a Ketchikan home at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. When troopers arrived, they said, they discovered 48 growing marijuana plants (troopers estimated together they weighed about 47 ounces) as well as an additional 96 ounces of process pot. Troopers turned the investigation over to the Southeast Cities Against Drugs task force. The two men, whose identities were not released, will have multiple charges of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance against them forwarded to the Ketchikan District Attorney’s office, troopers said.

Alaska tops tea party list: The results are not altogether surprising, but Alaska can claim yet another national superlative: the highest concentration of tea partiers. A left-leaning policy group Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights has done some math, and Alaska comes in with 3.57 tea partiers for 1,000 residents, according to a summary of the group’s report in a Washington Post blog post. Wyoming (2.29 per 1,000) and  Montana (2.25) come in second and third. On the other end of the spectrum sits New York, with 0.95 tea partiers per 1,000 (followed by New Jersey, and somewhat surprisingly, North Dakota). If these figures seem somewhat low, it’s in part because they are specifically measuring the core members of tea party groups -- those with memberships in organizations or those who’ve donated to such organizations.