Proposed legislation to prohibit Alaska abortion practitioners from being reimbursed by the state for performing “elective” abortions, not necessary to preserve the life or physical health of the mother are sitting in committees, awaiting further action by the Alaska House.
As of March 18 the two identical bills (Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 173) were sitting in the House Rules Committee and the House Finance Committee, respectively. The legislation underwent a couple of contentious hearings in February with proponents saying the legislation is needed to clarify when an abortion is considered “medically necessary” and thus eligible for state funding, versus when the procedure is merely “elective.”
As in other states, Alaska is subject to the long-standing federal law — the Hyde Amendment — which stipulates that federal dollars can only fund 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.
In clarifying when an abortion is deemed “medically necessary” the proposed bills state 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.
Senate Bill 49 and House Bill 173 are sponsored respectively by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. The bills are similar to a recently passed state regulation that limits state funding for abortions to instances in which failure to obtain an abortion threaten “medical impairment of a major bodily function.” Unlike the proposed bills, however, the state regulation also permits the state to fund abortions that are performed to avoid “a psychiatric disorder that places the woman in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function.”
The new state regulation has been put on hold by an Anchorage Superior Court judge, pending the resolution of a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, a local affiliate of the largest abortion provider in the nation.
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.”
To learn more about these bills or to contact a legislator, visit w3.legis.state.ak.us/index.php