Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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Ask permission for abortions? The ladies don't think so

State Rep. Alan Dick, Republican from Nenana, made himself a little bit famous this week on the Internet. Maybe not so much in a good way.

It began last Tuesday in a Juneau committee room. Wasilla Republican Rep. Wes Keller, chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee, convened a meeting, not to discuss a bill, but rather to get information and air grievances about the fact that some state money goes to pay for abortions for poor women.

Alaska provides state funding for abortions because it would be unconstitutional not to. This issue was decided by the state Supreme Court. But the Legislature keeps passing budget bills saying the state won't pay. It's a long-standing topic of Republican grousing. Keller, who is anti-abortion, has a pending bill on the topic.

Clover Simon, an official with Planned Parenthood in Alaska, testified and gave her spiel about how "government should not interfere in a decision between a woman and her doctor, her family or faith ..."

Then Dick, who is vice-chairman of the committee, chimed in.

Simon had referred to "a woman and her pregnancy," Dick said. But if a woman gets pregnant and decides to have the baby, he said, then the guy is on the hook for paying for it for 18 years.

"Yet if the woman chooses not to carry the child all of a sudden it's her individual personal choice," he said. "...I don't think it's really her pregnancy because it's their pregnancy. And if anything the decision to have an abortion should be made not only by the woman but the man who is also involved."

He asked Simon what she thought of that. Simon replied that Planned Parenthood encourages partners to be involved, but sometimes communication doesn't always work that way.

Dick went on.

"Double standards always bothered me and if I thought that a man's signature was required in order for a woman to have an abortion I'd have a little more peace about it..."

Whoa there, Mr. Dick. An abortion permission slip?

Didn't take long for that snippet of the committee meeting to make its way around the globe. The ladies were not amused. Can't blame them for being sensitive. Between the forced ultrasounds (Alaska has a bill on this pending) and the threats about birth control, seems like GOP lawmakers are going medieval on women's health. I'm not sure how that helps them vote-wise, but I'm no expert.

"Nothing says "freedom" or "the 1950's" like having your husband sign a permission slip before you get surgery," wrote the satirical web site Jezebel.

"He didn't say whether a rapist would be able to send his signature by fax from prison," Alaska blogger Jeanne Devon, also known as Ak Muckraker, wrote on The Mudflats and the Huffington Post.

From the blogsphere, the storm moved to Facebook, where an "Alan for Alaska" page was deluged with angry posts from across the country, something that has been happening nationally to lawmakers involved with legislation seen as hostile to women's health. The sarcasm ran thick. Many weren't printable. (His office couldn't say Thursday whether the page was created by someone involved with his campaign.)

"It's all so confusing for me being a woman to make these big decisions on my own," wrote Molly Hayes-Green, a poster from Michigan. "Will you help? Will you buy me a pony?"

"Do I have to have my husband's permission to go into menopause?" wrote Janet Switzer from Oregon.

"Hey, Alan," wrote Wilbur Goltermann of Colorado. "Are you smoking crack?"

Taking all this outrage into consideration, Dick decided to clarify .

"I have received several phone calls from women who were offended. I've listened to what they said. I realize how what I said could be taken to be hurtful -- it was for the women who called -- and I apologize," he wrote in a statement posted on his legislative web page.

But, as far as I can tell, he hasn't really changed his position

"I was trying to make a point that if the law makes a man responsible (and rightly so) for a child he has fathered -- it might also require that he be informed before a decision is made to terminate the life of his unborn child."

I called him Thursday to double-check.

"I believe a man and a woman should have equal say on whether or not a pregnancy should end in childbirth or abortion," he said. Most of his district does not support abortion, he said.

So what was he proposing? How would it work?

"I'm just making a statement, I'm not passing laws," he said.

But didn't he say something last week about some kind of signature system?

"If I misspoke, I was misspeaking," he said. "I don't recall anything about a signature."

Wouldn't it get kind of complicated, this idea of making a woman ask a man about getting an abortion? What if a woman didn't want one and a guy did or vice versa. Who got to make the call?

"That's why I'm just sticking with my simple statement, Julia," he said. He said the "equal say" sentence again.

I had more questions. I heard a knock at the door in the background. I started to ask something. He had to run, he said. If he ever came to Anchorage we could get coffee, he said. I thanked him for his time. He thanked me for mine.

"Bless you," he said, and hung up.

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