Planned Parenthood tries to block abortion regulation

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Alaska argued before Judge John Suddock in a hearing Monday in Anchorage Superior Court.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state last week, objecting to new limitations being placed on abortions paid for by Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Social Services last Wednesday. They object to the state trying to limit abortions paid for by Medicaid by narrowing the definition of when an abortion is medically necessary.

Attorney Janet Crepps argued by phone on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. She asked Judge John Suddock to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation, saying it could harm women who rely on Medicaid.

“The inability to obtain a medically necessary abortion or delay that unnecessarily increase the risks of the procedure are irreparable harm that justify the issuing of a temporary restraining order,” Crepps said.

Crepps said she worried about women with certain forms of diabetes or mental illness not qualifying for abortions if they need them. Initially the case was assigned to Judge Mark Rindner on Friday but the State of Alaska objected to him as the judge. Judge Gregory Miller was assigned the case the same day, but he recused himself. Then the case was assigned to judge Suddock.

State Attorney Stacie Kraly argued it would be fine to let the regulation stay in effect while the judge decides the case. The Department of Health and Social Services wants doctors to fill out a sheet checking off why an abortion should be reimbursed. Kraly said the additional documentation is not that big of a deal.

“What this form does is simply put a very minor additional documentation requirement on the part of the doctor providing the service to articulate that they believe, in their medical judgment, that the service that they are providing is medically necessary,” Kraly said.

The regulation requiring the additional paperwork was introduced in August by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur.

The regulation went into effect over the weekend. Doctors must now fill out a new form to certify a woman is in imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function in order to qualify for an abortion paid for by Medicaid.

Judge Suddock expressed concerns that mentally ill women might not qualify for abortions under the new regulation.

“A woman who’s bipolar, if she doesn’t take her medication she’s reverberating between a manic state and a depressive state,” Suddock said. “And it’s no fun and it has practical effects on all aspects of daily life, living, job, relationship, ability to provide childcare for the woman. But if she goes off her medication, is she really in imminent danger of impairment of a major bodily function?”

Jim Minnery with the conservative group, Alaska Family Action complained that Judge Suddock could not be impartial in the case because his former law partner had argued cases about abortion.

“We’re very disappointed that the state of Alaska didn’t accept Judge Suddock’s offer to recuse himself from the case,” Minnery said. “It’s that simple. We very much think that there’s a conflict of interest.”

Judge Suddock said he will rule swiftly on whether to issue a temporary restraining order suspending the state regulation until the case is decided.

Planned Parenthood has also requested a preliminary injunction which would suspend the state regulation for a longer period if the case takes more time.

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