December 20, 2012 — The Alaska Health Department has rejected a proposal to further restrict abortion coverage for low-income residents as part of new regulations for public health insurance programs, the AP/Fairbank Daily News-Miner reports (Bohrer, AP/Fairbank Daily News-Miner, 12/19).
Under the proposed rule, the state would have only covered abortions through Medicaid or Denali KidCare -- joint state-federal health insurance programs -- if a provider certified that the procedure was medically necessary. Current state law defines "medically necessary" abortions as those that address "a condition harmful to the woman's physical or psychological health." The proposal would have restricted the coverage to cases in which "the health of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy."
This summer, state Sen. Hollis French (D) in a letter to Alaska's health commissioner said the proposed regulations would reinstate rules overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2001. A legal opinion requested by French found that the medically necessary standard would be narrowed under the proposed regulation and would be "reasonably likely" to be found unconstitutional (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/24).
Alaska Health Commissioner Bill Streur said in August that the state health department did not intend to narrow the definition of medically necessary. Rather, the goal of the new regulations is to better determine whether abortion coverage should be paid for by the federal government or the state.
Laura Einstein, an attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, said the final regulations are an improvement over the original proposal.
"We're very gratified they're going to leave this between the physician and the patient, and not try to narrow" low-income women's access to abortion, she said (AP/Fairbank Daily News-Miner, 12/19).