Supreme Court hears arguments on state-funded abortions

Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether the state should have to pay for medically advised abortions for poor women.

The state is appealing a lower court ruling in which a judge determined that the state's policy discriminated against poor women.

The case was brought by Planned Parenthood of Alaska and two local doctors who say the loss of state aid for abortions has adversely affected their low-income patients.

''The state may not use the power of its purse to interfere with the power of reproductive choice. It can't use the power of its purse to discourage abortion,'' ACLU attorney Louise Melling told the court.

The state stopped paying for abortions for low-income women in 1998 after the Legislature cut off funding by ending a medical program that paid for them. It instituted another program that barred most abortions.

''The state may choose not to fund these abortions when she exercises her right to abort. That can be done without violating the Alaska Constitution,'' Assistant Attorney General Lisa Kirsch said.

Superior Court Judge Sen Tan ruled that the policy is unconstitutional because it discriminates against pregnant women who choose not to give birth. Tan said if the Legislature opts to provide medical care for pregnant poor women, then it can't favor women who decide to deliver over those who seek a therapeutic abortion.

The judge in July ordered the state to start paying for 17 months of outstanding claims within 90 days.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said the state has paid nearly all the outstanding claims, but there's the question of those filed since.

''Whatever way they rule, it will affect poor people around Alaska,'' she said.

The court gave no indication when it would rule.

The state paid for 843 abortions in the 1997 fiscal year before the Legislature's action effectively barring abortion payments except in cases where pregnancies result from incest or rape, or where an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.

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