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ACLU and Planned Parenthood Challenge Alaska Abortion Restrictions;
Seek to Restore Funding for Poor Women
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE
4:30 p.m. February 10, 1993
ANCHORAGE -- Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the
American Civil Liberties Union today asked an Alaska state court to stop
the implementation of discriminatory regulations that prevent low-income
women from exercising their fundamental right to choose abortion.
The lawsuit, filed today in Alaska Superior Court on behalf of
Planned Parenthood of Alaska and a coalition of women's rights advocates,
challenges regulations issued by the state to severely restrict the
circumstances under which poor women could obtain abortions. The new
policy is a radical departure from Alaska's 22-year practice of funding
all abortions for indigent women.
The ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project and Planned Parenthood's
Legal Action for Reproductive Rights are asking the court for a temporary
restraining order to block the implementation of these regulations,
scheduled to take effect on February 19, 1993.
The abortion funding restriction violates the constitutional and
statutory rights of women in Alaska and has no medical or fiscal
justification, according to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood's court
papers. For years this position has been supported by Alaska Attorneys
General, who have issued advisory opinions declaring such restrictions
"In an attempt to make good on his political promises, anti-choice
Gov. Walter J. Hickel is imposing his moral preference on the state's most
vulnerable women," said Catherine Weiss, Litigation Director of the ACLU's
national Reproductive Freedom Project.
Planned Parenthood attorney Dara Klassel added that the Alaska
funding restrictions are part of a disturbing national trend. "At a time
when people think of reproductive rights as being increasingly secure,
right-wing politicians are pushing state laws that would make abortions
more difficult for less affluent women to obtain," Klassel said. "The
right to choose should not depend on a paycheck."
"Unless these regulations are enjoined, women's health will be
jeopardized," said Joyce E. Bamberger, cooperating attorney for the
Alaska Civil Liberties Union.
The regulations attempt to distinguish "therapeutic" from "elective"
abortions, and to deny funding for the latter. The Department estimates,
however, that 40 percent of the women who have received funded abortions
will no longer qualify under the new regulations and that more than half
of those denied funding will have no choice but to carry to term.
Meanwhile, government funded pre- and postnatal care and childbirth
services will continue to be available in Alaska to women whose incomes
are up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
"The coercive power of restricting funding for abortions will take a
crippling toll on the women we serve," said Donna Hurdle, executive
director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska. She cited the already high cost
of abortions ($400-$700), and the travel expenses to get from remote
locations to abortion providers.
"Poor women from villages where economies are based on subsistence
hunting and fishing will not be able to pay for abortions. Desperate women
once again will turn to the back-alleys or risk dangerous self-abortions,"
"By not trusting low-income women to make decisions based on their
own life experiences, the government is dividing women along class lines,"
added Randall Burns, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties
The new regulations will allow for funding for abortions in cases of
rape and incest or when a physician certifies that the procedure is
medically necessary "to ameliorate a condition harmful to the woman's
physical or psychological health" -- a standard the ACLU and Planned
Parenthood contend is open to a wide array of interpretations that could
unjustly penalize doctors for acting in their patients' best interests.
"If the regulations are enforced, Alaska will abandon its long
commitment to reproductive choice," said Burns, who noted Alaska legalized
the right to choose in 1970, three years before the landmark U.S. Supreme
Court decision, Roe v. Wade.
ACLU and Planned Parenthood attorneys are representing Planned
Parenthood of Alaska, National Organization for Women-Fairbanks Chapter,
Fairbanks Coalition for Choice, Juneau Coalition for Pro-Choice, Mat-Su
Coalition for Choice, Pro-Choice Voters-Ketchikan, and Sitkans for
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