Finance Committee tries high-stakes maneuver on abortion funding

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate Finance Committee has added language in next year's budget that would kill the entire budget for Department of Health and Social Services if a judge tries to force the state to spend money on abortions.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said members of the Republican majority are frustrated with court rulings that have forced the state to provide abortions to poor women despite repeated efforts by the Legislature to bar the use of state funds for the procedure.

''Essentially, what we're trying to do is make the strongest statement to the court that this is the intent of the Legislature,'' said Kelly, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Kelly worked on the language in the budget bill, which allows exceptions when a woman's life would be endangered if she carried the pregnancy to term, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said he had not seen the bill, but the language appeared to put innocent people who are served by the department at risk.

''I would say the Republicans are pursuing an extremist agenda by making this budget what amounts to a high-risk blackmail case against the court,'' Ellis said.

It's not clear whether the maneuver will make it through the Legislature.

Kelly has support from enough of his colleagues for the language to pass the Senate, he said, but he didn't know how it would fare in the House.

Kelly said even pro-choice Republicans favor the move because they believe the courts are improperly meddling with the Legislature's power to make appropriations.

Annalee McConnell, director of the office of Management and Budget, said the administration hadn't had time to sort out the implications of the move.

''It does seem a pretty risky way to address a turf battle that the Legislature has with the courts,'' McConnell said.

A 1999 ruling that forced the state to pay for medically advised abortions for poor women has been appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard arguments in November, but hasn't ruled yet.

In that case, Superior Court Judge Sen Tan ruled that the state's denial of abortion funding for poor women is unconstitutional because it discriminates against pregnant women who choose not to give birth. Tan said if the Legislature opts to provide medical care for pregnant poor women, it can't favor women who decide to deliver over those who seek a medically advised abortion.

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