State senator introduces bill to limit late-term abortions

JUNEAU — A state senator from North Pole introduced a bill Friday that would require Alaska doctors to determine whether a fetus could survive outside the womb before performing an abortion.

The bill also would add viable fetuses to the state's Child in Need of Aid laws and allow them to be surrendered to the doctor or hospital employees if the woman is not willing or able to care for the child.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Coghill says the bill establishes new restrictions and principles for late-term abortions. The bill allows abortions if the doctor performing the procedure determines the fetus would not be able to survive outside the womb.

The bill does not specify a length of time into a pregnancy at which a fetus would be considered viable. Rather, it defines "viable" as being capable of surviving outside the womb with or without artificial aid.

"Unfortunately, it's both a legal and a moral issue. To me, it's a moral issue because it's a baby, but because of the way I have to argue it it's a legal issue," he said.

Coghill has a long history of supporting abortion-related legislation. The most recent was a law that defined what constituted a medically necessary abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding that a superior court judge last year ruled unconstitutional. The state is appealing that decision.

"Every time you talk about abortion, there is a constitutional challenge," Coghill said. "I've been here 18 years and 17 of those 18 years I've dealt with something very similar. It always goes to the Supreme Court because people think that killing babies is a constitutional right because of women's choice."

Erik Houser, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood's advocacy arm in Alaska, wrote in an email that the organization is reviewing the full effects of the legislation but is "understandably concerned about any abortion-related bill from Senator John Coghill, a politician with a long history of trying to come between a woman and her doctor on important medical decisions."