Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of her bill to introduce a constitutional amendment on abortion on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of her bill to introduce a constitutional amendment on abortion on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Testimony gets emotional on proposed abortion amendment

A proposed constitutional amendment could limit access to abortion

Alaskans gave emotional public testimony on a proposed constitutional amendment that would regulate abortions in the state of Alaska.

“In my mind, abortion is pure evil,” said Jonathan Fisher, who spoke in support of Senate Joint Resolution 13 introduced by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. “I’m funding it through my taxes, putting my finances behind that, and I have no choice in this issue.”

Hughes spoke about her bill calling for a constitutional amendment which reads in part, “to protect human life, nothing in this constitution may be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the State to fund an abortion,” during a Senate Health and Social Services Committee meeting Wednesday.

“This bill is about we the people, what laws and provisions we want. What kind of policy we want in Alaska,” Hughes told the committee. “One day, Americans will look back on abortion like we do slavery.”

Hughes said the Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted a right to privacy clause within the State Constitution as a right to an abortion. SJR 13 would provide clarity that the state constitution does not provide for that right, and allow for the state to pass laws regulating abortion in the state.

[House Republicans introduce wave of anti-abortion bills before filing deadlines]

“Laws that have gone through their due process but have been overturned at the bench have been subject to a series of decisions asserting the existence of a state constitutional right to abortion that protects abortion ‘more broadly’ than does the U.S. Constitution,” Hughes wrote in her sponsor statement for the bill.

Rev. Caroline Malseed, priest-in-charge at St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church in Juneau give testimony against SJR 13 on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Rev. Caroline Malseed, priest-in-charge at St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church in Juneau give testimony against SJR 13 on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

“As a result, numerous laws regarding abortion that would be completely permissible under the federal constitution and exist in other states have been struck down by the Alaska courts,” her statement said.

During the meeting, Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, asked Hughes if her proposed amendment would remove coverage of Alaska’s right to privacy.

“That is correct,” Hughes replied.

If Hughes’ bill is passed it would put the question on the November ballot for a vote of the people, according to supplemental documents for the bill.

“It’s not going to stop abortion it’s going to allow our state to have the broad range that is allowed by the federal courts under the U.S. Constitution,” Hughes said in an interview.

But not everyone present believed that was the case. Alyson Currey, legislative liaison with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, said she believed the ultimate goal of the bill was to ban abortion outright.

“If Roe v. Wade is overturned, or gutted, and this bill passes, that would open up the gates for abortion bans,” Currey said.

Others who spoke against the bill argued that it was impossible to ban abortion, that passing law that prohibits access to abortion simply drives the practice underground.

“Women died from having illegal abortions,” said Robin Smith, who called in from Anchorage. “Americans forget how bad it was before Roe v. Wade.”

Over 100 people had signed up to give public testimony on the bill, and the committee was not able to hear from all of them, according to Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, who chairs the committee.

The public comment period is still open, and written comments can be submitted to shss@akleg.gov.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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