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Alaska Releases New Rules Restricting Abortions

July 9, 1992

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Gov. Walter J. Hickel’s administration proposed regulations Wednesday prohibiting state funding of most abortions for low-income women.

The only exceptions would be in pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, or when an abortion would save the mother’s life or avoid physical or psychological harm to her.

The rules are scheduled to take effect in 60 days, though public hearings will be held on them on July 27 in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, said Ed Wicher, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Social Services.

″We haven’t operated in a vacuum on this at all. We are fully aware and expect challenges to this regulation change,″ Wicher said.

The regulations would halt only abortions funded by Medicaid, not privately funded abortions.

″We are not outlawing abortions in Alaska by these changes,″ said health commissioner Ted Mala. ″The action is directed against the act of abortion as an elective means of birth control.″

Hickel, a Roman Catholic, said shortly after his election in 1990 that he would seek a revision of the state’s policy of paying for abortions.

Alaska is one of 12 states that funds most or all abortions for poor women through Medicaid, the National Abortion Rights Action League said. Voters in 1982 handily defeated a ballot measure that would have ended state funding for abortions.

The state helped pay for 2,692 abortions between fiscal years 1986 and 1990, according to the state health department.

Abortion foes called Hickel’s decision courageous.

″We have to rally our troops to support the governor,″ said Ed Wassell, the president of Alaska Right to Life in Anchorage.

″The governor’s action will save real lives,″ he said. ″We seem to be making substantial progress.″

But Donna Hurdle, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, said in Anchorage the change will hurt low-income women, especially in rural Alaska.

″There will be no alternative for them, absolutely none,″ she said.

Mala asserted that most women in rural Alaska are Alaska Natives who receive medical services from the federally-funded Indian Health Service.

He said the new rules would add $3.6 million in state and federal welfare funding over the next three years to support children that otherwise would not have been born.

Although the Hickel administration said the new regulations aren’t tied to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that reinforced Pennsylvania’s ability to enact laws restricting abortion, Hurdle said the coincidence is too great.

″I think they are related. People are interpreting the (Supreme Court’s) Casey decision as giving the states more rights to restrict abortions,″ she said.

Randall Burns, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said a legal challenge is likely.

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