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Alaska House moves to prohibit state funding for abortions

The Alaska House has moved to prohibit state funding for abortions, a policy that has been struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court multiple times.
Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 7:48 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives voted 21-18 to prohibit state funding for abortions during budget debates on Wednesday.

The amendment was introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Kurka of Wasilla, who was the director of Alaska Right to Life before he was elected to the Legislature in 2020. He said the amendment would prohibit the state from funding abortions and cut $350,000 from Medicaid, his “very, very small estimate” for how much the state pays for abortions each year.

The state’s latest figures show that Medicaid was used to fund 537 “induced terminations” last year. The budget bill itself still needs to pass through the House, get support from the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy before this prohibition would come into effect.

The Legislature has made similar attempts to prevent state money being used through Medicaid to fund some abortions. The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected that multiple times, citing the state’s constitutional right to privacy.

It has also been rejected on equal protection grounds. Effectively, the court has said that one medical procedure cannot be denied for lower-income Alaskans in that way.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, said similar legislative efforts may have been overturned in the past, but that should stop not legislators from acting now.

“We have talked on this floor several times this morning about children — it’s all about the children, right? Children to me include the pre-born, all the way down to conception,” he said. “So, I don’t really care if we have to run it through courts a hundred times.”

Opponents of cutting state Medicaid funding for abortions talked about the risks of limiting health care for lower-income Alaskan women. There are also some concerns that cutting that funding could see the state miss out on some federal Medicaid dollars.

Kurka said the potential loss of that funding should be irrelevant and that, “I don’t want a partner to kill kids.”

Rep. Liz Snyder, D-Anchorage, strongly opposed the amendment and said that it had no nuance. It doesn’t mention abortions for pregnancies from rape, incest or ectopic pregnancies.

“I know it conflicts with some folks’ ideology, but some people don’t want to be pregnant,” Snyder said on the floor. “And from my perspective, that’s their right to feel that way. And the decision they make going forward is between them and their doctor.”

The Alaska-based debates about abortions comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to soon overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally. It’s unclear what effect, if any, that would have on any state legal debates about Medicaid funding for abortion.

“I think just the tension and the anticipation takes that to a higher pitch,” Snyder said about those national debates after Wednesday’s floor session ended. “It’s unfortunate, for a variety of reasons.”

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