State House passes bill limiting Medicaid payments for abortion

Rep. Geran Tarr addresses the Alaska House of Representatives on April 10, 2014, during debate on Senate Bill 49. The bill aims to limit Medicaid coverage of abortion to only "medically necessary" ones. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Rep. Geran Tarr addresses the Alaska House of Representatives on April 10, 2014, during debate on Senate Bill 49. The bill aims to limit Medicaid coverage of abortion to only “medically necessary” ones. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Alaska State House narrowly passed a bill that would put limits on state Medicaid payments for abortion.

The bill defines the term “medically necessary,” so it only covers physical harm – not psychological harm. Doctors would need to choose from a list of conditions like epilepsy and sickle cell anemia before the state covers the cost of the procedure.

Advocates for the bill, like Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux, said the point was to keep the state from paying for elective abortions.

“We’ve got the right to travel, but it doesn’t mean the government buys us a ticket to Paris,” said LeDoux. “We’ve got the right to bear arms, but the government doesn’t buy us a Sturm Ruger.”

Critics of the bill believe it will make it harder for low-income women to have access to abortion. Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, also suggested that the bill will not save money, because the law will inevitably end up in court.

“Litigation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, just as it has in the past,” said Tarr.

The Department of Health and Social Services introduced similar abortion regulations last year, but a judge put a stay on them after a lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the regulations violate the Equal Protection Clause.

The bill ultimately passed 23-17, splitting mostly on party lines. Republicans Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Paul Seaton of Homer, and Alan Austerman of Kodiak broke with their party and voted no.

The bill passed the Senate last year, with a provision establishing a women’s health program. Because the House stripped that program, the bill will have to be sent back to the Senate for concurrence.