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Alaska Legislature

Palmer lawmaker proposes constitutional amendment to allow abortion limits

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 23
  • Published January 22

About 60 people rally outside the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 to voice their opposition to abortion in the state. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — A new proposal from a Palmer Republican state senator would allow legislation to bypass state Supreme Court rulings protecting abortion rights in Alaska.

The constitutional amendment proposed Tuesday by Sen. Shelley Hughes says nothing in the Alaska Constitution “may be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the state to fund an abortion.”

Since 1997, the Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state constitution’s right-to-privacy clause protects abortion rights.

“Our courts keep knocking this down,” Hughes said.

“By adding this simple answer to the question of who will decide the policy, it settles the matter,” she said of her amendment.

Members of the Alaska Senate’s largely Republican 14-member majority are deeply divided on other issues, but most support the abolition of abortion or restrictions on the practice.

“That’s an uphill battle, but it’s a worthy discussion,” said Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, of the proposed amendment.

To become part of the Alaska Constitution, amendments require 13 votes in the Senate and 27 in the House, then the approval of a majority of voters in the next statewide general election.

Hughes said she believes she has enough votes in the Senate but doubts she has enough support in the House.

“I think it’s a conversation we wanted to get started, and then who knows,” Hughes said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy was in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday and unavailable to answer questions about the proposal, his deputy communications director said.

The governor, who opposes abortion rights, is facing a lawsuit over his decision to veto money from the budget of the Alaska Court System. Last year’s veto was equivalent to the amount of money the state was required to spend on abortion services, and the lawsuit alleges the governor illegally retaliated against the courts for its rulings on abortion.

That veto is also one of the stated grounds for a recall campaign seeking to remove him from office.