Future of Alaska Abortion Legislation Could Hinge on State Senate Races

September 21, 2012 — A conservative push to gain a majority in the Alaska Senate could have repercussions for abortion-related legislation in the state, the Alaska Dispatch reports.

Currently, the state Senate is evenly split, with 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. In 2006, six Republican senators formed a bipartisan coalition with the Democrats but agreed they would avoid contentious social issues like abortion.

Now, Gov. Sean Parnell (R) and supporters of the oil industry are prioritizing an effort to elect a Republican majority. If they are successful, the Senate and House -- which already has an antiabortion-rights majority -- would form "[o]ne of the most socially conservative legislatures in recent Alaska political history" and likely would take up abortion-related legislation, according to the Dispatch.

Two antiabortion-rights candidates who won Republican primaries over relatively moderate incumbents do not face a Democratic challenger in the general election. The Dispatch also notes that Parnell is a staunch abortion-rights opponent who likely would sign abortion restrictions approved by the Legislature into law.

Potential Bills

One measure that might be proposed in the next session is legislation that would require women seeking abortion care to first have an ultrasound, according to the Dispatch.

Lawmakers also might address an ongoing debate in the state over abortion coverage in publicly funded insurance programs for low-income and disabled residents. Under a 2001 state Supreme Court decision, Alaska may not deny women in the programs medically necessary abortion care if the state covers other medically necessary pregnancy care.

Last year, state Rep. Wes Keller (R) introduced a bill that would have narrowed the definition of what is considered a medically necessary abortion. Although the billed failed, Keller pledged to bring it up again (Coyne, Alaska Dispatch, 9/19).