ACLU Urges Alaska Supreme Court to Strike Regulation Denying Assistance for Medically Necessary Abortions

November 15, 2000 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE – Moving to protect the rights and health of low-income women, the American Civil Liberties Union argued today in the Alaska Supreme Court that denying Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions while funding prenatal care and childbirth is discriminatory and endangers women’s health.

“The state cannot deny public benefits because a woman exercises her right of reproductive choice in a manner the state disfavors,” said Louise Melling, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project and co-counsel on the case.

“Once the state decides to fund medically necessary care for women who choose to continue their pregnancies, it can’t discriminate by refusing to help women seeking medically necessary abortions,” she said.

Today’s argument was made on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Alaska and two local doctors, who have seen the loss of state aid adversely affect their low-income patients.

Since the state eliminated this funding, Planned Parenthood of Alaska has loaned more than $50,000 to women who need an abortion to protect their own health. “It is simply outrageous that women in Alaska have been denied the medical care they need,” said Anna Franks, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska.

For more than 25 years, the state provided assistance for medically necessary care regardless of whether women carried a pregnancy to term or had an abortion. In 1998, however, Alaska began limiting abortion coverage only to those pregnancies that are life-threatening or resulted from rape or incest.

“The regulation at issue not only interferes with a woman’s fundamental right to make her own private decision about her pregnancy, free from government interference, it also unconscionably jeopardizes poor women’s health,” said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

“Poor pregnant women with epilepsy, heart disease, cancer, and many other conditions for whom carrying a pregnancy to term is medically ill-advised can no longer get assistance from the state, no matter how dire — short of death — the consequences may be. “

In March 1999, a Superior Court Judge declared denial of funding for medically necessary abortions unconstitutional, noting that “Alaska’s privacy guarantee is broader in scope than the implicit right of privacy guaranteed by the federal constitution.” Though the state was ordered to start paying for medically necessary abortions in April 1999, it failed to do so for more than a year. It began paying claims in the fall of 2000, only when ordered to by the court following contempt proceedings.

Like Alaska, the vast majority of states considering this question under their own state constitutions have concluded that once a state chooses to provide pregnancy benefits, it must fund all services equally.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Alaska v. Perdue (No. S-09109). Attorneys in the case include Louise Melling, Jody Yetzer, Talcott Camp, and Jennifer Dalven from the national ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

A brief in the case can be viewed online at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/plannedparenthood_v_perdue.html

Previous news releases on this case are online at archive.aclu.org/news/1999/n031799b.html and archive.aclu.org/news/n061898a.htm.

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