Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Courtesy photo | Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Courtesy photo | Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Dunleavy defends including abortion on list of postponed procedures

Gov says move wasn’t political but about preserving PPE

Gov. Mike Dunleavy defended the decision to include surgical abortion on the state’s list of medical procedures which can be postponed in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

The governor said Wednesday at a press conference in Anchorage all health care clinics were being asked to delay any procedures for non-life threatening conditions and that no single industry was being singled out.

“The discussions we’ve been having go beyond clinics. We’ve been talking to every outfit there is in the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said, defending the decision as part of an effort to increase the state’s supply of personal protective equipment or PPE.

“I know some will want to see this as something that it’s not,” Dunleavy said. “There’s a lot of unknowns right now. We’re putting off elective procedures so we have the capacity to deal with what’s coming our way.”

However, the inclusion of abortion drew the ire of people who favor access to abortion.

[State says abortions can be postponed amid virus concerns]

“It’s shameful to see elected officials exploit a public health crisis to score political points and restrict abortion access,” said Jessica Cler, Alaska State Director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, a political arm of Planned Parenthood. “As the people of Alaska do their part to keep each other healthy, we expect our public officials to rise to the challenge of this health care crisis and work to expand access, not restrict care.”

Two state Sens. Jesse Khiel of Juneau and Tom Begich of Anchorage, both Democrats, sent a letter to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink stating they felt she had violated the state’s trust by becoming involved in a political decision.

“I am utterly shocked to find your name atop an attachment to the latest health mandate, specifying which medical procedures must be postponed statewide,” Khiel wrote in an email to Zink. “Along with the good, it contains non-medical political manipulation that will cost you your credibility.”

Both Senators asked Zink to retract the provision prohibiting abortion from the health mandate.

Asked about the decision Wednesday, Zink said she made her recommendations as a physician and stayed away from the politics.

“My 100% mission and focus is the health and well-being of all Alaskans, the broad recommendations I routinely give are that we need to slow down this disease…that included conserving PPE.”

Preserving the amount of PPE the state has in its stockpiles was critical because experts are predicting a surge in COVID-19 cases, Dunleavy said. There were an additional 13 cases of COVID-19 since Tuesday, the governor said, as well as a death.

An Anchorage woman in her 40s who was admitted to the hospital earlier in the week died Tuesday, according to Zink, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to seven.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

Information on the coronavirus is available from websites for the City and Borough of Juneau, the State of Alaska at coronavirus.alaska.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with flu-like symptoms are encouraged to contact their health care provider.

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