Alaska House votes to restrict Medicaid funds for abortions

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House has voted to cut the state Medicaid budget in a bid to eliminate state funding for abortions in spite of constitutional questions.

House members voted 21-18 Wednesday to zero out funds available for Medicaid services related to abortions. The vote came during debate on the state operating budget, which continued Thursday.

The package that ultimately passes must go to the Senate for review.

Lawmakers previously have sought to restrict Medicaid funds for abortions, and the state has shifted Medicaid funding from other sources and continued to help pay for abortion services, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Medicaid funded 537 of 1,226 abortions in Alaska in 2021, statistics show.

The Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution’s right to privacy as encompassing abortion rights. It ruled in 2001 that the denial of Medicaid benefits for medically necessary abortions was unconstitutional and in 2019 struck down a law and regulation that sought to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for purposes of Medicaid funding.

Rose O’Hara-Jolley, Alaska state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said the anti-abortion provision in the budget “is unethical, unconstitutional, and puts cruel and inequitable restrictions on abortion access for people with low incomes.”

Several legislators said they believed strongly enough to vote in favor, despite the legal concerns.

“I don’t really care if we have to run it through the courts a hundred times,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Christopher Kurka, a Wasilla Republican who also is running for governor.

All 18 members of the House’s Republican minority voted in support. Joining them were Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen of Anchorage, who isn’t part of a caucus, and two members of the bipartisan House majority, Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick of Eagle River and Rep. Josiah Patkotak, an Utqiagvik independent.