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New Rules for Certifying 'Medically Necessary' Abortions Set To Take Effect in Alaska

New Rules for Certifying 'Medically Necessary' Abortions Set To Take Effect in Alaska

January 9, 2014 — State regulations defining what constitutes a "medically necessary" abortion that is eligible for Medicaid coverage in Alaska are set to take effect next month, despite Democratic criticism that the requirements are unconstitutional, the AP/Anchorage Daily News reports.

According to the Daily News, the Alaska health department on Tuesday received notice that Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) had filed the rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Feb. 2.

New Requirements for Physicians

The regulations are similar to legislation proposed last year by state Sen. John Coghill (R). They would require a physician to select one of two options when filling out a certificate to request Medicaid coverage for an abortion. Under the first option, the physician would have to certify that a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or was needed to save a woman's life. In such cases, federal funding for abortions is permitted under the federal Hyde Amendment.

The other option would be for the physician to indicate that an abortion was needed to avoid a serious risk to the woman's physical health, meaning that "impairment of a major bodily function" would have occurred if the pregnancy continued. The physician would have to specify the woman's condition from the state's list of 23 impairments that could put a woman in "imminent danger" of such impairment. The list includes an option stating that the abortion was needed because of "another physical disorder."

Health Commissioner Comments

Alaska Health Commissioner Bill Streur said the health department will have the authority to check medical records to verify the need for funding. He added that the regulations aim to ensure the state is only paying for medically necessary procedures and push doctors to look "very carefully at why they are performing the abortions."

The department in 2012 rejected language revising the "medically necessary" definition, but Streur said the new regulations were needed because the number of requests for state-funded abortions has not declined as he had hoped (Bohrer, AP/Anchorage Daily News, 1/7).

Reactions

Coghill in a statement applauded the rules but said he would "still like to see statutory language, passed by the Legislature, that defines 'medically necessary abortions' for the purposes of making payments under Medicaid" (Alaska Dispatch, 1/7).

Several Democrats asked Streur to withdraw the rules, citing concerns that they are unconstitutional. State Sen. Hollis French (D) said it is "inconceivable" that the rules will not prompt a court challenge, adding that they are "burdening this one medical condition, pregnancy, with a whole host of bureaucratic procedures that you don't burden other medical conditions with."

Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest in a statement called the rules an "unconstitutional policy that interferes with women's personal medical decision-making." However, Treasure Mackley, the group's political and organizing director, did not say whether the group would challenge the rules in court (AP/Anchorage Daily News, 1/7).