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Alaska House Passes Bill That Narrowly Defines 'Medically Necessary' Abortions

A bill that aims to narrowly define what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding passed the Alaska House of Representatives Sunday night according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The bill was the House version of Senate Bill 49 which passed the upper house of the Alaska legislature last year. Critics say the bill will greatly limit the availability of abortions to poor and low-income women.

The proposed law defines a “medically necessary” abortion as one arising from a pregnancy that poses "serious risk to the life or physical health of a woman."

State Rep. Geran Tarr, a Democrat, argued that an abortion is a personal decision and that the bill, as written, will interfere with a woman’s right to privacy and making that decision on her own.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a Republican, disagreed with Tarr, saying that the bill doesn’t restrict access to the controversial procedure it just helps to determine who will pay for it.

"This bill has nothing to do with restricting a women's right to an abortion," she said.

Even so, other critics argued that the bill ignores the larger question; which is how the state should reduce the number of overall abortions. Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck supported an amendment to the law that would have expanded Medicaid funding for contraception. Such an amendment, he argued, would reduce unwanted pregnancies and achieve the goal of reducing abortions.

“The best way to do that is to make it so people aren’t even faced with that decision. The best way for that is prevention of unwanted pregnancies,” he said, according to the Fairbanks News-Miner. “Like it or not, sex happens. Shouldn’t everyone be able to afford and plan for the consequences of sex?”

Republicans were opposed to the idea.

“Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean we’ve done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services,” argued LeDoux.

The bill passed without the amendment.

In 2001 the Alaska Supreme Court held that the state must pay for “medically necessary” abortions. According to an Associated Press story, that decision referenced bipolar disorder and noted that medications to treat that disorder would be “highly dangerous to a developing fetus.” Since that time state lawmakers have struggled to define what is “medically necessary.”

“Without funding for medically necessary abortions, pregnant women with these conditions must choose either to seriously endanger their own health by forgoing medication, or to ensure their own safety but endanger the developing fetus by continuing medication,” the court reasoned.

The bill that passed the House on Sunday lists 21 physical conditions that would constitute medical necessity for an abortion. An amendment to add certain psychiatric disorders to that list failed to pass.

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks News-Miner, The Herald (AP Story)


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