Alaska Officials Refuse To Discuss Proposed Changes to Abortion Coverage Rules

July 16, 2012 — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is refusing to discuss a proposed change to "abortion payment conditions" that critics believe could restrict access for low-income women, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Abortion-rights opponents and supporters both say it is difficult to tell what effect the proposal would have if enacted.

Under the rules, the state would only cover abortion care through Medicaid or Denali KidCare -- joint state-federal health insurance programs for low-income Alaska residents -- if a provider certifies on paper that the procedure is medically necessary. Current state law defines medically necessary abortions as those that address "a condition harmful to the woman's physical or psychological health." However, the proposal states that coverage would only apply if "the health of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy."

In a written statement, Deputy Health Commissioner Kimberli Poppe-Smart said the changes are necessary "to avoid payment errors" and "to verify that medical assistance funds are being used in accord with the law." Health officials said they want to ensure the state complies with the federal Hyde Amendment -- which bars federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment -- and meets criteria from a 2001 Alaska Supreme Court decision that required the state to pay for medically necessary abortions if it also covered maternity care.

Objections to Proposal

Clover Simon of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest -- which provides the majority of abortion care in Alaska -- said that by eliminating the reference to "psychological health," the state could eliminate abortion coverage for many women. "You have to be suspicious, because there have been so many attacks on a woman's right to obtain an abortion, especially poor women," she said.

Planned Parenthood also voiced concern that the proposal could violate a woman's privacy. The paper form certifying a medically necessary abortion would be sent through the mail and contain a woman's name, the date of the abortion and whether the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The state Department of Health has requested public comment on the proposal through July 30. The new regulation has to go through several stages before being finalized and could be altered or withdrawn entirely, according to the Daily News (Demer, Anchorage Daily News, 7/12).