Abortion bill draws fire from rights groups, physicians

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill requiring women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours and sit through an extensive description of fetal development drew support from anti-abortion activists Tuesday and criticism from abortion-rights supporters and physicians.

The proposal sponsored by Rep. John Coghill would require the Department of Health and Social Services to develop a brochure containing photographs of a fetus at two-week intervals throughout pregnancy. The brochure would also list potential risks of abortion, including infection, hemorrhage, complications in future pregnancies, and infertility.

''It gives the woman the best available information about what's going on in terms of the growth inside the womb,'' Coghill, R-North Pole, told the House Health, Education and Social Services Committee.

Coghill, who opposes abortion, contends women confronted with such information and forced to wait a day might change their minds and carry their babies to term.

Abortion-rights advocates attacked the proposal as a tactic designed to humiliate and intimidate women seeking abortions.

''This bill places an undue burden on the women of Alaska,'' said Roz Jenkins, who works with Planned Parenthood of Alaska in Sitka. ''No woman, no woman at all, takes lightly having an abortion.''

The 24-hour waiting period would force women who live outside Anchorage to make longer and more expensive trips to get an abortion, Jenkins said.

Dr. Peter Nakamura, director of the state's Division of Public Health, criticized the brochure described in the bill as biased. He noted that it does not describe the health risks of carrying a child to term.

''You can't just give half the information,'' Nakamura said. He also said forcing women to view pictures of a developing fetus would be cruel because many women find having an abortion traumatic to begin with.

''To legislative medical practice is a rather dangerous process,'' Nakamura said.

Nakamura also said that physicians are already required to get informed consent before performing any kind medical procedure, including abortion.

Anti-abortion activists praised the bill, saying women who seek abortions are often faced with crisis situations that prompt them to act hastily.

''I would liken it to someone who's caught in a cage,'' said Eileen Becker of Homer.

Others spoke about long-lasting emotional problems stemming from abortions, and recounted past experiences with abortion clinics that provided little or no information about the risks involved.

Committee Chairman Fred Dyson held the bill for a further hearing, but three of the measure's sponsors sit on the seven-member panel, so its passage out of committee is likely. The bill would then go to the House Judiciary Committee.

Dyson and Rep. Joe Green, both zealous opponents of abortion, sparred with Nakamura over the use of the term ''fetus.'' The bill uses the term ''unborn child,'' which Nakamura said was appropriate only in the late stage of pregnancy when a baby could survive outside the womb.

''We're talking about a fetus here,'' Nakamura said.

''I'm going to call it a child. You call it a fetus,'' retorted Green, R-Anchorage.

Dyson, R-Eagle River, sided with Green.

''Those of us that do not want children to die simply because they're unwanted are very resistant to terminology that tends to dehumanize them,'' Dyson said.

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