Abortion bill called unconstitutional, unneccessary

JUNEAU — A bill that would cut state funding for abortions in cases which are not “medically necessary” is unconstitutional and unnecessary, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest testified Monday.


Laura Einstein, the group’s chief legal counsel, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill is unnecessary because the Alaska Supreme Court has already defined when an abortion is medically necessary.

She said that the Medicaid rules also contain a definition of “medically necessary” used by “virtually all services covered under Medicaid.”

The bill is unconstitutional because it would subject abortions that are funded by the state to much more stringent parameters than other procedures covered under Medicaid — which the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in 2001, according to Einstein.

“To us, it seems obvious that the only possible justification is to limit women’s access to abortions, and that’s not permitted by the Alaskan Constitution,” she said.

SB49, by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, states that the Department of Health and Social Services may not pay for abortion services unless those abortions are medically necessary or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The bill would bar the state from paying for “elective” abortions.

Coghill said in his sponsor statement that “the term ‘medically necessary abortion’ has acquired a constitutional component of unknown scope.”

Opponents argue that it gives politicians a say in a decision that should be made by doctors and their patients.

“We don’t turn to government for advice about other medical care,” Jennifer Allen, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the group’s political division, told the committee. “Doctors — not government — are the right ones to decide what’s medically necessary.”

A handful of people that called in to testify also said the bill discriminates against poor women who can’t afford an abortion.

The bill’s supporters argue that the state should not pay for an elective procedure that many of the population finds morally reprehensible. Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, called the thought of an elective abortion “repulsive.”

The bill was held in committee and public testimony remains open.