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Alaska Supreme Court upholds block on restrictions for Medicaid abortion funding

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ANCHORAGE, February 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In a victory for the abortion industry, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday that it would uphold a lower court decision barring enforcement of two state regulations that kept Medicaid funds from subsidizing abortions beyond the limits of the federal Hyde Amendment.

Under a law enacted in 2013, Medicaid funds can only pay for abortions that meet the conditions of the federal Hyde Amendment – sought for rape, incest, or to preserve a mother’s health – or if they’re deemed “medically necessary.” A certificate instituted the following year defines the health exception as applying to conditions “that would place the woman in danger of death” or “imminent danger of medical impairment of a major bodily function,” as well as a list of conditions that would qualify.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest sued on the grounds that placing the conditions on which abortions qualified for aid was “discriminatory” and therefore violated the equal-protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The state Superior Court for the Third District agreed, blocking the regulations’ enforcement in 2015.

On Friday, the state Supreme Court voted 4-1 with Planned Parenthood and against the regulations.

“This standard imposes different requirements for Medicaid funding eligibility upon women who choose to have abortions than it does upon women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term,” Justice Susan Carney’s majority opinion claimed. “The statute’s and the regulation’s facially different treatment of pregnant women based upon their exercise of reproductive choice requires us to apply strict scrutiny, and the proposed justifications for the funding restrictions do not withstand such exacting examination.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers, the court’s sole dissenting voice, wrote that determining what is or is not “medically necessary” fell within the legislature’s rightful prerogative, particularly when concerning the allocation of finite taxpayer dollars. “Nothing in Alaska’s equal protection clause requires the state to subsidize non-medically-necessary abortions for Medicaid-eligible women simply because it provides them with medically necessary healthcare,” he wrote.

To the point that the regulations somehow single out abortion for unique treatment, Stowers noted that “Medicaid generally does not cover treatment sought solely to alleviate distress caused by life’s circumstances, short of actual diagnosed mental disorders. Medicaid is limited to providing care that protects basic health and does not provide all care that would optimize physical or mental well-being.”

Stowers was also the lone dissenter in 2016, when the Alaska Supreme Court struck down a state law requiring at least one parent be notified before a minor can obtain an abortion.

It remains to be seen whether state officials will attempt to appeal the justices’ latest ruling to federal court.

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