Judge Temporarily Blocks Alaska Law Restricting ‘Medically Necessary’ Abortions

The law narrows when Medicaid recipients are eligible for coverage of abortions.

The law narrows when Medicaid recipients are eligible for coverage of abortions. Law via Shutterstock

On Tuesday, an Alaska state court judge temporarily blocked a law designed to limit abortion access for the state’s low-income residents by further defining when an abortion is considered “medically necessary” in order to be covered by the Alaska Medicaid program.

The law, SB 49, is similar to regulations approved by the state health commissioner earlier in the year. Both seek to circumvent a 2001 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court ordering the state to cover abortions that a woman’s physician says are “medically necessary.” SB 49 requires doctors to select from a list of 21 pre-approved reasons why an abortion would be “medically necessary.” Those reasons do not include any consideration of psychiatric disorders.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest challenged both the law and the regulations as unconstitutional. In February, a state court judge temporarily blocked the regulations from taking effect while that lawsuit proceeds. Similarly, Tuesday’s order temporarily blocks SB 49 while Planned Parenthood’s legal challenge proceeds. In issuing the order Tuesday, Superior Court Judge John Suddock said Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit raised “substantial issues” as to the constitutionality of SB 49 and is entitled to a hearing.

“The politicians who passed this law were playing a dangerous game of keep away with women’s health by trying to withhold Medicaid coverage from qualified women,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement following the ruling. “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between paying her heating bill and protecting her health. But that will be the reality if this law stands, with the end result that a woman in the state of Alaska will have worse health care simply because she’s poor.”