Senate majority leader looks at legislation to define when abortion is 'medically necessary'

JUNEAU — The majority leader of the Alaska Senate said Tuesday he is looking at introducing legislation that would define when an abortion is “medically necessary.”

Sen. John Coghill’s comments at an anti-abortion rally on the state Capitol steps were greeted by applause.

Coghill, R-North Pole, was the main speaker at the rally, which was held in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. A number of other lawmakers, mainly Republicans, also attended.

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds other procedures deemed medically necessary for people in need. A legislative legal opinion last year, however, said it’s not clear what makes an abortion medically necessary, and that it’s likely only further litigation will provide greater clarity.

The opinion stemmed from proposed state regulations of abortion payments.

Coghill said in an interview after the rally that he has talked with colleagues in both the House and Senate and is looking to introduce a bill with specifics once he gets more information. He said he hopes to the best of his ability to answer some of the questions the state Supreme Court had and to make a policy call on state funding of abortions.

Coghill told the more than 100 people gathered for Tuesday’s rally in Juneau that abortion is sin, and “a shame on America.” He said with abortion, God is not honored.

While there are other issues for lawmakers to take up, such as energy needs for Alaskans, Coghill said that doesn’t mean that social issues — like abortion — cannot be taken up, as well.

Sara Kiesler, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said any restriction on access to abortions would be “blatant government overreach.”

“The fact of the matter is, in the real world, women don’t turn to politicians for advice about birth control, mammograms or cancer screenings,” she said.

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