Court reaffirms Medicaid coverage for abortions

A state law and Department of Health and Social Services regulation that would have severely limited Medicaid coverage of abortions for low income women has been struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The court said in its Feb. 15 decision in state of Alaska v. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest that both the statute and regulation violated the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution by creating criteria for Medicaid coverage of abortions not imposed on any other services covered by Medicaid.

“This law treats two classes of people unequally – women who see abortions and women who carry pregnancies to term,” said Autumn Katz, senior counsel for The Center for Reproductive Rights. “That is without question unconstitutional.”

Katz said that the decision confirms that the state cannot discriminate against Alaska women on Medicaid should they decide to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.

The state is required to cover an abortion if it is deemed medically necessary by a provider, said Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii. All pregnant women must be given equal protection under the law, she said.

Susan Orlansky, senior counsel for ACLU of Alaska, hailed the court’s decision for reaffirming “that all women even those without wealth, have a right to medically necessary care, including an abortion.”

The case was filed in Alaska Superior Court in 2014 by Planned Parent of the Great Northwest, with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America against the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, They contended that the state’s regulation restricting Medicaid coverage of abortions put a burden on pregnant low income women, who already have the last access to health care.

That regulation was blocked temporarily in February 2014. Shortly afterward, the Alaska Legislature passed a statute adopting an even more restrictive law. Subsequently a challenge to that law was added to the litigation. In 2015, the trial court struck down the statute and regulation, after which the state appealed that decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.