Alaska judge strikes down Medicaid abortion restriction

07_suddockThe Alaska Superior Court has ruled against a 2014 state law narrowing the definition of a “medically necessary abortion” eligible for Medicaid subsidies to a list of specifically-defined health conditions.

Judge John Suddock (pictured) of the Anchorage Superior Court ruled that the law violated the Alaska State Constitution’s equal protection language.

Medicaid subsidized almost 29% of the state’s abortions in 2014.

Suddock appears to have relied on Planned Parenthood for his ruling:

“The legislation’s sponsors argued that mental health considerations can never justify an abortion,” said Suddock. “But a countervailing body of medical researchers regards that view as a canard.”

He elaborated further, arguing that expert testimony from physicians, provided by the plaintiff (Planned Parenthood, et al.), “established that an abortion can in fact resolve psychiatric symptoms of women with anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders.”

“Simply put, an unwanted pregnancy is a crisis for any woman,” Suddock wrote. “To an impoverished woman without recourse to an abortion, the crisis may be extreme.”

Republican Sen. John Coghill, a sponsor of the law in question, called it “very, very evident” that the ruling was based on the judge’s “political philosoph[y]” rather than the law’s compatibility with the Constitution.

“We’re extremely gratified,” said Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest legal counsel Laura Einstein. “What the court found was that requiring women to have a health condition that was dire, that was essentially one where their life was at risk, was too high a standard and too fundamentally different than the standard that would be applied for the provision of other health services in the Medicaid program.”

Many pro-lifers have sought to either tighten health exceptions to abortion laws or limit them to life-of-the-mother situations due to Doe v. Bolton, a 1973 companion Supreme Court case to Roe v. Wade, which defines a health justification for abortion as any “physical, emotional, psychological, [and] familial” impact. Pro-lifers fear this criteria is broad enough to theoretically justify any abortion and render an entire pro-life law toothless.

The Alaska Attorney General’s Office is examining the ruling and has not decided whether it is going to appeal.

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