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Numerous Alaska Doctors Come Out in Support of Senate Bill 49

Doctors and nurses bring up definition of ‘elective’, federal intervention and funding questions

JUNEAU-Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from several medical professionals in Alaska on their support for Senate Bill 49, which is aimed at defining what is considered a “medically necessary abortion” for the purpose of making payments under Medicaid.  SB49, which was created using recommendations and expert testimony from medical professionals, sets out to provide a neutral, but more specific definition of what is medically necessary.

Dr. Regina Chennault, a general surgeon from Anchorage who has been practicing medicine for 20 years, talked about a recent experience she had while on duty at a local hospital when a 17-year-old pregnant woman needed an emergency appendectomy.

“When I talked to her about getting informed consent, especially the risk to her unborn baby,  she said, and this is a quotation, ‘Oh, I don’t care about this baby.  I am having an abortion on Thursday and it’s my third one.’  And she was a Denali KidCare beneficiary of the Alaska Medicaid program.”

Much of the testimony directly refuted statements from Planned Parenthood earlier this week about whether ‘elective’ circumstances existed.

Nancy Bienvenue, who is a registered nurse and former CEO of CareNet, which provides services to women who are facing unplanned pregnancies in the Tanana Valley, testified about what she sees as the definition of ‘elective’.

“It’s about funding that elective abortion.  They struggled with the word ‘elective’.  Absolutely you can determine if something is elective or not.  What’s difficult to determine is on the other side of the spectrum.   It is sometimes difficult to determine medical necessity and that’s why there is this bill proposed to define and clarify that.  But elective is elective.  You make a foolish choice.  You make a mistake. It’s inconvenient.  There’s a huge variety of reasons for having an abortion but those reasons are very large in spectrum.”

Dr. Jean Bramer who has been an OB/GYN doctor for 18 years in the Fairbanks area told the committee she believes this bill is about funding, not whether abortion is right or wrong.  Here are two excerpts from her testimony:

“When I was reading the bill what stood out to me is this is not so much a pro-life, pro-choice debate.  This is about funding.  Medicaid and every other government organization, every other organization on the planet, have limited funds.  So the definition of medically necessary is very important to be defined because otherwise we are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on elective abortions.  Even though Planned Parenthood doesn’t understand what that is, I do.  Elective abortion is an inconvenient pregnancy - a pregnancy that wants to be terminated for no medical reason.  There are very few medical reasons that really would make it reasonable.  This list is even very broad and most physicians would never recommend somebody terminate a pregnancy because of a kidney infection.  But it’s on there.  This list is very broad and it’s going to cover the women it should cover.  It’s going to cover rape and incest.  It’s going to cover a lot of things that really should allow that woman to have access.  But it’s not going to allow Alaskan tax dollars to pay for elective abortions.  Private insurance does not cover elective abortions, so I don’t understand why Medicaid should be covering it.”

“People were talking about back alley abortions.  This has nothing to do with this.  We’re not trying to change the legalization of abortion.  We’re not changing the access to medical care for low income women, middle income women or high income women.  All that access is still there.  Back alley abortions weren’t free either.  Those people still had to come up with the funding to pay for that.  So, if people choose to have an elective abortion, whether they have private insurance or Medicaid, they’re not going to be covered.”

Dr. Ilona Farr is a family physician from Anchorage who has been practicing medicine for 26 years.  She argued to the committee SB49 is necessary so Alaska can set its own medical standards rather than allow the federal government to step in.

“18 states have now passed legislation prohibiting abortions in the new health care exchanges or marketplaces.  And these are the ones that are being set up under ObamaCare/ACA.  These violate the Hyde Amendment,” said Dr. Farr.   “So it is vitally important that Alaska sets a clear standard for what is medically necessary now before the federal government imposes their own definitions.”

Public testimony on Senate Bill 49 will continue next Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For more information, please contact Rynnieva Moss in Senator Coghill’s office at (907) 465-3719.

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