State lawmaker says Alaska women get abortions for travel vouchers, offers no proof

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks with House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, during a...
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks with House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, during a May 3, 2017 House floor session (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: May. 3, 2017 at 9:06 PM AKDT
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A conservative state lawmaker faces criticism after he suggested Alaska women get abortions so they can get the government to pay for an out-of-state trip.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, offered no proof that actually happens, and some critics see his comments as containing racist undertones that are disparaging to Alaska Natives.

The controversy goes back to a resolution that was originally agreeable to politicians of all leanings.

, in its earlier form, attempted to draw attention to the state's struggles with sexual violence and child abuse. Eastman, however, suggested in a House Rules Committee meeting earlier this week that a provision should be added to declare abortion the "ultimate form of child abuse."

Four Republicans who serve on the committee, which is tasked with touching up bills and scheduling them for a vote, voted to adopt Eastman's amendment. The measure was adopted 4-to-3. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, was the lone member of the Democrat-led House majority coalition to support the change.

After the meeting, Eastman told The Associated Press he was pleased to see a higher profile for the contentious abortion debate, in part because he believes this: "We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle," Eastman told the wire service.

Despite frequent outcry from social conservatives, the state Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions for low-income Alaskans if it funds medically necessary services.

Still, when asked for evidence that women get pregnant and have an abortion simply so they can get a government-subsidized trip, Eastman only told KTUU "a number of people have come to (his) office with stories, experiences."

He offered no specific proof of the alleged occurrence.

Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, represents a swath of rural villages that contain many low-income residents who rely on health subsidies. His district, as well as many other remote areas of the state, is predominantly made up of Alaska Natives.

In a floor session Wednesday, Westlake shot back at Eastman's claim.

"When you start to categorize my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, my daughter as someone that's going to barter an unborn child's life for a trip somewhere," said Westlake, "It's beneath us."

Asked what he made of the remarks from Westlake and others who saw the claim as offensive to Natives, Eastman said, "These are very valid concerns. Obviously, it's a troubling issue, but I'd like to find policies that limit (abortion) as much as possible so that we don't put these people in situations where they're being pressured based on financial constraints to make a bad decision."

Eastman made waves earlier this session by voting against two resolutions that saw otherwise unanimous support: one honoring black soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway during World War II and the other honoring Hmong and Lao veterans who fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

A captain in the U.S. Army, Eastman said in an interview that he voted "no" in those instances because he doesn't believe that "singling people out based on race does a good effect for the state."

The uncontroversial rendition of S.C.R. 2 already cleared the Senate unanimously, and if the latest version makes it through the House, the Senate would need to approve the changes.

Whatever version of the bill clears the Legislature, if any, resolutions carry little weight as they do not establish laws or authorize spending. Instead, they are typically used to draw attention to an important issue or to the accomplishments of an individual.

State lawmakers are nearing the constitutional deadline to the regular legislative session and remain gridlocked over how to resolve state government's immediate $2.7 billion budget gap and long-term, structural fiscal problems.

Debate over proposals to implement an income tax, restructure the Permanent Fund, overhaul the state's oil and gas tax regime, and to reduce government spending are mostly playing out in private.