Abortion consent bill approved by Finance Committee

Posted: Thursday, April 04, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill requiring doctors to tell women about risks of abortion and requiring the state to publish a booklet on fetal development and abortion alternatives passed the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Representatives of anti-abortion groups praised the bill, while abortion rights groups argued women are already being informed and the measure is an attempt to shame them.

Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, sponsored the bill.

''The more information people have in order to make a decision, I think the better it is,'' Ward said. ''To me this is a choice bill.''

Bob Lynn, president of Alaska Right-to-Life, suggested the reason some oppose the Senate Bill 91 is because they make money performing the procedure.

''Knowing the medical facts could result in fewer women risking abortion,'' Lynn said Wednesday. ''I'd ask you to think of informed consent as part of a woman's bill of rights.''

Abortion rights advocates rejected that characterization. Anne Harrison, a nurse practitioner who is on the state board of Planned Parenthood, said the bill is not about protecting health, but about imposing an anti-abortion, religious bias on women who are pregnant.

Victoria Halcro of Planned Parenthood in Anchorage said informed consent is already required for all medical procedures, including abortion.

''It's just another way to intimidate women and make them feel guilty about their decision,'' Halcro said.

Those testifying on either side of the bill provided wildly different statistics about health risks associated with abortion.

Karen Vosburgh, executive director of Alaska Right to Life, said having an abortion is four times deadlier than having a child. Women who've had abortions suffer higher rates of breast cancer, miscarriage and other health problems, including psychological effects, and are four times more likely to attempt suicide, she said.

''Abortion, we all know, is destroying the baby within the women,'' Vosburgh said. ''It's also destroying the women.''

But Halcro said abortion is eight times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term; a first-trimester abortion has a lower complication rate than any other surgery; and anti-abortion former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop could find no evidence of adverse psychological effects from abortion.

The bill calls for the state to publish a pamphlet with objective, unbiased information describing abortion procedures and identifying medical and psychological risks of both abortion and of carrying a child to term.

The pamphlet would also include information on fetal development, including photographs of typical fetal development at two-week gestational increments.

In addition, the bill calls for the pamphlet to contain contact information on adoption and counseling agencies, as well as abortion clinics.

The bill would require the state to advertise the availability of the pamphlet, place it in public hospitals and clinics and distribute it to anyone else upon request, including private hospitals and clinics.

The Department of Health and Social Services estimated it would need $227,500 a year to do all that's required.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, was skeptical of the cost estimate.

''I understand how departments, when they don't like something, inflate the fiscal note,'' Leman said.

The Finance Committee agreed to move the bill on to the Rules Committee, with Sens. Kelly, Ward, Leman and Green recommending the measure pass. Sens. Donley, Austerman, Hoffman, Olson and Wilken made no recommendation.

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