Alaska Senate Passes Bill To Restrict Abortion Coverage Through Medicaid

April 11, 2013 — The Alaska Senate on Tuesday voted 14-6 to advance a measure (SB 49) that would define which "medically necessary" abortions are covered under the state's Medicaid program, the AP/Anchorage Daily News reports (Bohrer, AP/Anchorage Daily News, 4/9).

The state covers abortions under Medicaid in cases that are medically necessary or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Social Services would be barred from paying for abortions under Medicaid unless it falls under a new, narrower definition of medically necessary (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/13).

The bill would define medically necessary abortions as those needed to save a woman's life or avoid a serious risk to her physical health, including "impairment of a major bodily function." Other abortions would be considered "elective" and would not be covered under Medicaid.

The bill could be brought up for another vote before it heads to the state House. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Sunday.

Legal Implications

State Sen. John Coghill (R), the bill's sponsor, said it is designed to provide clarity to Alaska's definition of medically necessary. The state Supreme Court has held that Alaska must pay for medically necessary abortions if it pays for other medically necessary procedures, but the court did not define the term, Coghill noted. Abortion providers must certify that a procedure was medically necessary to receive payment from the state.

Opponents of the bill, including Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said it is unconstitutional.

State Sen. Hollis French (D) pointed out that the bill lacks any mention of mental health, which the court specifically referenced in its opinion (AP/Anchorage Daily News, 4/9).