Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation April 17 to prohibit Alaska abortion practitioners from being reimbursed by the state for performing so called “elective” abortions that are not necessary to preserve the life or physical health of the mother.
The legislation underwent a series of contentious hearings before final passage and it failed to draw support from Alaska Right to Life.
Supporters of the measure, though, note that it closes loopholes that have been exploited by abortion practitioners to gain public funding for so-called “elective” abortions.
The law clarifies when an abortion is considered “medically necessary” under the law and thus eligible for state funding, versus when the procedure is considered merely “elective.”
As in other states, Alaska is subject to the long-standing federal law — the Hyde Amendment — that stipulates that federal dollars can only pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest or to preserve the mother’s life. But if none of those conditions apply, abortion practitioners in Alaska have been able to simply claim that an abortion was “medically necessary” and general funds from the state would then pay for abortions of low-income women on Medicaid.
Prior to 2001, Alaska was only required to pay for abortions where the life of the mother was endangered or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, consistent with federal law.
Then in 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that Alaska must use state funds to pay for all “medically necessary” abortions even if the federal government would not. As a result, for the last 12 years, Alaska has paid for all abortions requested by abortion practitioners without ever defining the term “medically necessary.”
In clarifying when an abortion is deemed “medically necessary” SB 49 states that the condition is met when there is a “serious risk to the pregnant woman of death; or impairment of a major bodily function.”
Psychological or mental health threats are not covered as medically necessary reasons for an abortion.
But not all pro-life advocates are supportive of the new law. Most notably, Alaska Right to Life issued a strong statement against the legislation because it specifically excludes unborn babies who are conceived in rape or incest. This creates new statutory authority for excluding from legal protection “preborn babies that are conceived in rape or incest,” argued Alaska Right to Life Executive Director Christopher Kurka in an email to supporters.
And while Kurka said Alaska Right to Life supports incremental prolife legislation, the recently passed law “specifically excludes a class of human beings from protection because of the manner of their conception.”
But one of the most prominent pro-life organizations in the state, Alaska Family Action, supported passage of the law, calling it a “common sense measure that simply requires physicians to describe why they are determining that a procedure is medically necessary.”
Abortion supporters such as Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the nation, opposed the law — albeit for very different reasons than Alaska Right to Life — and promised to challenge the law in court.
Another prominent critic of the bill was the Alaska Democratic Party, which issued strong statements against it, claiming that the law allows “politicians to dictate what constitutes a ‘medically necessary’ abortion.”