Alaska House votes to cut Medicaid funding for abortion services

Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, leaves the chambers of the Alaska House of Representatives on Friday, March 19, 2021. Kurka proposed a budget amendment intended to cut Medicaid funding for abortions on Wednesday, April 6, 2022 (Peter Segall/Juneau Empire via AP, pool)

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a budget amendment Wednesday intended to cut Medicaid funding for abortions. Courts have ruled against previous attempts by the Legislature to eliminate public funding for abortion services.

Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, proposed the amendment. He is running for governor this year.

“The legislature has consistently said we don’t want to pay for abortions,” he said. “I think it’s high time to stop using intent language. We again, like last year, put this language in the budget to make it very clear that this body is not interested in paying for abortions.”

The amendment passed 21-18. Lawmakers who oppose the measure say it’s likely to be signed into law even though similar measures were found to be unconstitutional.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, supported the amendment. He said future court rulings could turn out differently.

“I don’t really care if we have to run it through courts 100 times,” he said. “Let’s run it through the courts. Maybe we’ll get a different outcome.”

Planned Parenthood has won two state Supreme Court cases against similar legislation in the last twenty-one years. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, was among the lawmakers opposed.

“The court said that reproductive choice is a private matter — protected — and will be treated like other women’s health issues. And if we can’t prohibit, for example, a mammogram, then we can’t prohibit an abortion,” he said.

There were more than 1,200 abortions performed in Alaska last year. Medicaid paid for 43% of them.

Planned Parenthood is Alaska’s largest provider of reproductive health services through Medicaid. Rose O’Hara-Jolley, the state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, calls the amendment a cruel and inequitable restriction on access to people with low incomes.

“It’s creating a system where people who don’t have wealth are being told that they aren’t allowed to have medical decisions anymore, that the state is making them for them. So there will still be access to abortion. But it will be for those who are wealthy,” they said.

O’Hara-Jolley said women would have to pay out of pocket for services related to abortions if the amendment becomes law.

“Medicaid covers nearly one in three American Indian and Alaska Native adults,” O’Hara-Jolley said, referring to people who are on Medicaid in Alaska. “So this inequity just further exacerbates links to racism, sexism and economic inequality — for people of color specifically.”

The House is still considering budget amendments. If the amendment remains in the House’s final budget proposal, it will move to the Senate for approval before going to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Editors note: This story has been edited to clarify that out of people who are on Medicaid in Alaska — not nationwide — one in three are American Indian or Alaska Native.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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