Coghill planned bill to ban late-term abortions, it would have been the 14th abortion bill of his career

Alaska’s most consistently anti-abortion legislator was set to introduce his 14th bill aimed at abortions since assuming office in 1999.

Sen. John Coghill’s Senate Bill 123 was released as part of the Legislature’s first prefile release today, and seeks to prevent any abortion where the physician believes the fetus could be viable outside the womb except when it’s medically necessary or in certain cases of rape or incest, in which case the physician would be required to do what they can to keep the fetus alive (likely inducing labor early) so it could be put up for adoption.

Though he prepared the bill, Coghill declined to introduce it. He may try to piggyback onto similar legislation introduce by Sen. Cathy Giessel and Rep. Cathy Tilton.

The official description of the bill is as follows:

“Prohibiting abortions when the unborn child is viable outside the pregnant woman’s womb with certain exceptions; providing that a child removed from a pregnant woman’s womb alive after an abortion may be surrendered and found to be a child in need of aid; and repealing a prohibition against partial-birth abortions.”

The description of the bill is nearly identical to Senate Bill 179, which Coghill introduced in 2016. That bill, like more than half of Coghill’s prior abortion bills, never emerged from its first committee of referral.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters registered stout opposition to Senate Bill 179, arguing that it effectively would force women considering such an abortion to give birth against their will.

“Before outlining the numerous legal and operational problems with this bill, it is important to note that a ‘child removed from a pregnant woman’s womb alive,’ as referenced repeatedly in this bill, is not referring to an abortion. It is a delivery,” a memo filed by Planned Parenthood explained.

Planned Parenthood argued that the legislation would have required physicians to “deviate from best medical practice to achieve an intrusive legislative goal.”

Coghill defended the bill at the time, telling the Alaska Dispatch News that he felt it was an appropriate way to cut down on abortions, a long-held key issue for the North Pole Republican.

“Unfortunately, it’s both a legal and a moral issue. To me, it’s a moral issue because it’s a baby, but because of the way I have to argue it it’s a legal issue,” he said.

The legislation sought to repeal the prohibition on partial-birth abortions largely because the new rules would institute a tougher hurdle.

An anti-abortion history

Coghill has introduced anti-abortion legislation nearly in every Legislature since he took office in 1999.

The issues of included parental notification for minors, defining “medically necessary” abortions with the goal of cutting down state funding, and a handful of tactics to prevent discourage women from getting abortions at the time of the procedure including requiring informational pamphlets be handed out and requiring ultrasounds.

He’s found little traction with his legislation. More than half of the legislation never emerged from committee and the few that did manage to pass one chamber faltered in another.

His one major success came in 2014 (after the dismantling of the abortion-adverse bipartisan coalition) with the passage of Senate Bill 49, which sought to limit Medicaid funding for “medically necessary” abortions to a specific list of physical conditions. The bill ignored psychological conditions that might be contribute to a physician’s decision in determining if the procedure is “medically necessary.”

The legislation was ultimately struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled that Medicaid-funded abortions must also take into consideration the psychological health of a woman seeking the procedure.

When questioned about the constitutional issues raised by his abortion language when he introduced Senate Bill 176, Coghill said it’ll always be an issue.
“Every time you talk about abortion, there is a constitutional challenge,” Coghill said. “I’ve been here 18 years and 17 of those 18 years I’ve dealt with something very similar. It always goes to the Supreme Court because people think that killing babies is a constitutional right because of women’s choice.”

A history of legislation

Bills marked with * never emerged from their first committee of referral and some never received a hearing.

29th Legislature (2015-2016)

  • Senate Bill 179* – Bans abortions where fetus could be viable outside the womb (as determined by physician performing the procedure) except when the pregnancy resulted from certain cases of rape or incest. Requires doctors to keep alive viable fetuses from abortions performed in such abortions in order to put the child into the state welfare system.

28th Legislature (2013-2014)

  • Senate Bill 49 – Restrict Medicaid funding to only what the law determined to be “medically necessary” abortions. (Passed Legislature and signed into law, but successfully challenged in court)

27th Legislature (2011-2012)

  • Senate Bill 14* – Allows health care providers to refuse to provide certain services based on their beliefs, in this case relating to a “provider’s conscience”.
  • Senate Bill 191* – Require an ultrasound before an abortion.

26th Legislature (2009-2010)

  • House Bill 34* – Sets additional limits to partial-birth abortions.
  • House Bill 35 – Notice and consent for a minor’s abortion (Passed House)

25th Legislature (2007-2008)

  • House Bill 270 * – Increases the standards for facilities where abortions are performed to only hospitals or a licensed “ambulatory surgical center” approved by DHSS for abortions.
    House Bill 301 – Sets additional limits to partial-birth abortions. (Passed House)
  • House Bill 329 –  Parental consent for minors to receive an abortion. (Passed House)

23rd Legislature (2003-2004)

  • House Bill 286* – Restrict Medicaid payments for abortions to those deemed by state to be medically necessary or for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

22nd Legislature (2001-2002)

  • House Bill 112* – Informed consent for an abortion
  • House Bill 160 – Enact system to report abortions (Passed nearly unanimously, signed into law)

21st Legislature (1999-2000)

  • House Bill 329 – Informed consent for an abortion (Passed out of committee)

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