In a Victory for Poor Women, Alaska High Court Blocks State from Denying Aid for Medically Necessary Abortions

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
July 27, 2001 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE – In a resounding victory for poor women throughout the state, the Alaska Supreme Court unanimously held today that denying Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions while funding prenatal care and childbirth is discriminatory.

“We are gratified that the court recognized that the state cannot deny public benefits simply 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.

The regulation at issue limited Medicaid coverage to those abortions necessary because the pregnancy was life-threatening or resulted from rape or incest. Under this funding scheme, the state would pay for all other medically necessary services for pregnant women, including prenatal care and childbirth, while forsaking pregnant women needing abortions to protect their health.

In its unanimous decision, the court held that “a woman who carries her pregnancy to term and a woman who terminates her pregnancy exercise the same fundamental right to reproductive choice. Alaska’s equal protection clause does not permit governmental discrimination against either woman; both must be granted access to state health care under the same terms.”

“Today’s decision is a triumph for all Alaskans,” said Christine Schleuss, cooperating attorney for the Alaska Civil Liberties Union. “In holding that the state cannot discriminate against poor women seeking abortions, it confirmed that the state constitution protects Alaskans’ right to non-discriminatory treatment more robustly than does the federal Constitution.”

Today’s ruling is in line with the decisions of the overwhelming majority of state courts to have considered this issue. To date, 15 state courts have held that once a state chooses to provide pregnancy benefits, it must fund all services equally.

“Today’s decision rightfully restores Alaska to a more democratic state. For more than 25 years, the state provided assistance –as it should– for medically necessary care regardless of whether women carried a pregnancy to term or had an abortion,” explained Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union.

Anna Franks, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Alaska, added, “We are pleased the court affirmed Alaskan women’s constitutional right to choice. Women who need state assistance for a pregnancy deserve fair and equal treatment and the same access to pregnancy options guaranteed to all women.”

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

The decision in the case is available online at: http://www.alaska.net/~akctlib/sp5443.txt.

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