Legislature approves abortion measure, while critics say it's headed for court

JUNEAU -- A bill defining "medical necessity" for women on Medicaid seeking an abortion received final legislative approval Monday.

A day after the state House approved the bill on a 23-17 vote, the Senate agreed on a 13-7 vote. The final version removed provisions for family planning services, though supporters of the bill said the state already has adequate programs in place.

Anchorage Sen. Hollis French said the bill continues a more-than-decade-long effort to put "special burdens on a woman's right to choose."

He said the bill is in line with state regulations that have already been placed on hold by the courts, and he predicted the bill would meet the same fate. "I have little doubt that this bill we're passing here today will never go into effect because it's contrary to our Constitution," he said.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said the best way to reduce the number of abortions and unintended pregnancies is to increase family planning services. "If you really want to reduce abortions, a family planning amendment is the way to do it," she said.

Defending the measure, Fairbanks Sen. John Coghill said the state is spending $37 million on women's health related to family planning and children's health services. An additional program is not needed, he said.

"This is simply saying when something is medically necessary that we as a society will step up and help. When it's not medically necessary, it's really the responsibility of the individual seeking whatever services they choose," he said. The bill aims to define a medical necessity with a list of physical conditions that pose a risk to the life or health of the woman.