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Experts testify on abortion bill, criticized

Posted: February 27, 2013 - 10:03pm

JUNEAU — A developmental psychologist testifying before a state Senate panel Wednesday said she doesn’t believe abortion is ever justified on mental health grounds.

Priscilla Coleman, a professor of human development and family studies, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that abortion in fact is a “substantial contributing factor” in women’s mental health problems.

Coleman was one of three experts called to testify Wednesday on SB49, which pertains to which abortions Alaska must pay for under the state Medicaid program. The bill states that the Department of Health and Social Services may not pay for abortion services under the program unless those abortions are medically necessary or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The bill would define “medically necessary” abortions as those needed to avoid serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health. That could mean a serious risk of death or “impairment of a major bodily function” due to such things as renal disease that requires dialysis; congestive heart failure; coma; or “another physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy” that places the woman’s health at risk.

Payment would not be made for “elective” abortions.

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it pays for other procedures deemed medically necessary for people in need. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Coghill, said with the list of testifiers Wednesday, he was trying to establish that the discretion that would be given the doctors is credible and to make his best case possible.

The issue is emotionally charged, with critics calling the bill dangerous for women and an example of government overreach. Coghill, R-North Pole, said Tuesday that he’s not surprised by the reaction to his witness list, noting that each side could view the other’s arguments or positions as extreme. In doing his research, Coleman, John Thorp Jr. and Susan Rutherford struck him as “very credible.”

The chairman of Alaska’s Democratic party, Mike Wenstrup, on Tuesday labeled the witnesses as “extremists” who have made “outlandish, demonstrably false claims” about abortion. Wenstrup said Coleman, Thorp and Rutherford “have an agenda that is utterly inconsistent with the respect for personal freedom and privacy that Alaska’s founders wrote into our Constitution.”

Thorp was an author of a 2003 report that argued doctors, before an abortion is performed, should offer women information about preterm delivery, depression and breast cancer, according to a news release from that time. A 2011 legal filing described him “as one of the leading experts in evidence based women’s reproductive health” who encourages providing ultrasound images and information on fetal development to pregnant women.

Thorp, a professor of maternal and child health in the public health school at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said he didn’t remember that filing. Asked by the committee’s lone minority member, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, if he felt providing counseling before an abortion was medically necessary, he said he considered it both medically necessary and ethically obligated. Thorp said he worked with bill drafters on a list of conditions that “unequivocally” and greatly threaten the life of the woman.

Coleman said she has authored over 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles, of which 37 dealt with the psychology of abortion. Coleman authored a study linking abortion to an increased risk of mental health problems that researchers, in a report published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research last year, said reached wrong conclusions. Coleman said she disagreed with that finding under questioning by Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Rutherford is a maternal and fetal medical specialist in Washington state. She said it’s rare for an abortion to be required out of medical necessity and said she does not perform abortions. She recommended that kidney infection be taken off the list in SB49 of conditions that pose a serious risk to the woman, saying she’s never seen one that would necessitate an abortion.

A Coghill aide, Chad Hutchison, said 623 abortions in Alaska were paid by Medicaid in 2011. He could not say whether any of those were not deemed medically necessary but pointed to a study that indicated a small percentage of abortions nationally were due to a physical problem.

Wielechowski asked who was in a better position to decide the issue of medical necessity: “a woman’s physician or a bunch of politicians?” He said this is an issue dealing with constitutional rights. Coghill said the bill revolves around who pays for an abortion and is not a restriction on whether a woman can obtain an abortion.

Coghill, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Planned Parenthood would have a chance to present its case next week, and the public will also have a chance to comment. Two of the committee’s five members have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.

Jennifer Allen, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said much of the testimony given has been “discredited by major health care associations.” The group pointed to Coleman’s assertion that there is a preponderance of evidence suggesting abortion will exacerbate pre-existing mental health illness and a potential link to breast cancer.

“The bottom-line is Alaskans know that a woman should have accurate information about and equal access to all of her legal options,” Allen said in a statement. Wednesday’s “hand-picked testimony on Alaska women’s health is simply intended to coerce, judge and shame a woman who seeks safe and legal abortion,” she said.

Follow Becky Bohrer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/beckybohrerap .

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northernlights
218
Points
northernlights 02/28/13 - 08:46 am
0
0
Un-wed mothers

I know of three young women personaly who are unwed, one is unfit, who are going to be giving birth within a couple of months. what do you think that is going to cost medicaid? Have any idea how much it is just to deliver a baby, let alone have them covered until they are 16? The one unfit, hmm wonder how that child is going to do growing up, let alone mentaly and physicaly when the mother chooses drugs over a child. Make abortion pills available, or stop limiting welfare and medicaid, because this generation is pooping out more kids with single mothers than anything.

Sam Von Pufendorf
1088
Points
Sam Von Pufendorf 02/28/13 - 10:12 am
0
0
The death penalty!

Northernlights,
I think you may be on to something here! An answer to all of our socio-economic problems. If you are an economic burden on society... DEATH TO YOU! This would free up billions of dollars and allow them to be re-directed to better areas of social development such as education!
This is not a question of whether a woman may or may not have an abortion. This is a question of whether the tax payer should foot the bill simply because someone of little means made a poor decision that resulted in another life beginning.
This article touches very lightly on the moral issues involved which I believe is the bigger question.

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 02/28/13 - 12:18 pm
0
1
Have Ya ever noticed ?

Have ya ever noticed that it is usually a bunch of pastey lily white crusty ole Men making Life or Death Decisions about the Health of Women. Women seldom have any part of the decision making. Doesn't seem to be Fair Representation to Me ?

Time for some Fact Checking. The number of un-wanted Births here in America has been reduced by 50% within the last 10 years. So Yes the system is working.

SPW

Norseman
3616
Points
Norseman 02/28/13 - 05:30 pm
2
0
It's real simple. Don't like

It's real simple.
Don't like abortions? Don't have one.
Don't like gay marriages? Don't get one.
Don't like cigarettes? Don't smoke.
Don't like porn? Don't watch it.
Don't like alcohol? Don't drink.
Don't like sex? Don't do it.
Don't like guns? Don't buy one.
Don't like your rights taken away?
Then don't take away someone else's.

Sam Von Pufendorf
1088
Points
Sam Von Pufendorf 02/28/13 - 05:49 pm
1
0
Not that simple Norseman

1)If you like cigarettes and smoke, don't ask the government to pay for your resulting health problems.
2)If you like sex and make a poor decision resulting in an unwanted pregnancy, don't ask the government to pay for your abortion.
3)If you like alcohol and repeatedly drink to excess, see #1.

If only things were as cut and dried as you make them out to be... but they aren't.

Concerning this article, medicaid will not pay for an "elective" abortion and they shouldn't! Now it is a matter of definition what "elective" actually means.

Norseman
3616
Points
Norseman 02/28/13 - 07:21 pm
0
0
abortion has been a hot

abortion has been a hot button topic since roe vs wade.

Handpicked was the word used to describe the "expert witnesses." When you stack a meeting with people who will provide you with exactly what you want them to say, well then that is just farce.

Who should be deciding on just what constitutes a medical reason for an abortion isn't white haired old men who are pro life.

little_voice
5
Points
little_voice 02/28/13 - 09:02 pm
1
1
My take on this...

What bothers me about this bill is the language of it. These politicians are trying to define what is a "medically necessary" and "elective" abortion. Their definitions or lack thereof reveal biases in thinking.

Abortion is a legal choice of every woman and the only medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. "Elective" means "optional" in my Webster's dictionary. If a woman wants to end her pregnancy, an abortion is necessary. Every abortion is therefore medically necessary. The reason does not matter. Doctors can only strongly advise a woman to terminate her pregnancy for health reasons; the woman must still make that decision. Some women with serious health risks still choose to continue their pregnancies and survive the pregnancy and birthing, circumstances varying. So even when a doctor is telling you, "You will very likely die if you don't end this pregnancy," every woman still has options. Even when a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she can choose to have an abortion or raise the child or give the child up for adoption. She has options. I've known women who raised the resulting child. My point is that unless you are being forced, all abortions are optional, therefore "elective."

Many Alaska citizens are uncomfortable paying for abortions of pregnancies that resulted from unprotected sex. These politicians are partly acting on their behalf. But if that is what they want to do, they should not be playing word games and clearly state that they don't want to pay for the mistakes of irresponsible women. They should not be saying that only when a woman's health is at risk is her abortion necessary. That is their biased thinking. They should not be saying that a rape victim's abortion is not elective. That is their biased thinking.

Raoulduke
3055
Points
Raoulduke 03/01/13 - 06:00 am
0
0
Choices

Does not EVERY citizen have FREEDOM of CHOICE? Abortion is for the WOMAN to choose.She should not be put through an emotional ringer for doing so.

Sam Von Pufendorf
1088
Points
Sam Von Pufendorf 03/01/13 - 11:07 am
1
0
Raoulduke I don't believe a

Raoulduke
I don't believe a woman's "choice" is contested in this legislation. A woman can have an abortion performed if she so chooses. However, the taxpayer cannot be held responsible for footing the bill if this is simply an elective procedure. There are instances where a single woman had multiple abortions as a matter of convenience. Should we be responsible for her irresponsiblity?

Raoulduke
3055
Points
Raoulduke 03/01/13 - 12:55 pm
0
0
choice

SVP - Yes! there are instances of single woman having abortion as form of birth control.I agree.We should not be held responsible.he legislature is trying to dictate medicine/medical procedures with the fervor backed by religious"belief" not fact.Medical necessity should be declared by the person's doctor,not a legislator. I am going to go out a limb here,and state my thought on the matter of such women.Those women who use abortion as a form of birth control. These are probably uneducated,ignorant,living on the governments entitlements type of individual.I say this because there are just to many forms of contraceptives out there for them to use.Safe sex is still the only smart way. Abstaining from the act certainly is not working.The number of young single pregnant girls in this state prove this point.

little_voice
5
Points
little_voice 03/02/13 - 05:53 pm
0
0
I think a lot of women use

I think a lot of women use birth control, just not consistently. Inconsistent use may be from ignorance, believing luck is on their side, lack of assertiveness (so some partners coerce them into not using, say, condoms), or they don't find a form of birth control that they like so they're constantly switching. The only women I know who never used it were serious Christians and they also only had sex within marriage.

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