Alaska Republicans propose a law that lets Alaska Republicans tell doctors what counts as a medical emergency

Alaska lawmakers want to play doctor in order to restrict abortion access, but many in the state are crying foul

By Katie McDonough
April 14, 2014 7:30PM (UTC)
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(lenetstan via Shutterstock)

Lawmakers in the Alaska state Legislature think they know better than doctors when it comes to defining a medical emergency, and have introduced a proposal that could tie doctors' hands when it comes to determining what's best for their patients in need of abortion care.

The measure would restrict state funding for abortion by restricting the definition of "medically necessary." Low-income women can access abortion services through the state Medicaid program if the procedure is deemed medically necessary, and it's these women that lawmakers are targeting with the proposal.


As Lisa Demer at the Anchorage Daily News reports, Republican state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, denies that the measure is aimed at limiting people's access to abortion. "This bill has nothing to do with restricting a women's right to an abortion," she said.

When Democratic opponents of the measure raised concern that the medical necessity of other procedures is not determined by state lawmakers, LeDoux said that there wasn't an issue with other procedures being performed when they weren't medically necessary. (It does not appear she had anything else to say in support of that conclusion.)

More from the Anchorage Daily News:


The bill says an abortion is "medically necessary" if the pregnancy poses "serious risk to the life or physical health of a woman." Besides the risk of death, the measure says a serious risk would be a complication that could impair a major bodily function and lists 21 specific conditions and one blanket provision referring to other physical disorders or injuries.

The measure makes no explicit provision for covering abortions in cases of psychiatric illness or emotional crisis and some opponents said the absence of a mental health provision will be damaging to women and may not hold up in court.

Among the physical conditions that would qualify an abortion as eligible for state payment under the bill are a coma, epilepsy, seizures, heart failure and diabetes with severe organ damage. But others are less known, such as "amniotic fluid embolus" and "status epilepticus."

But not every Republican is on board with LeDoux's proposal. Republican state Rep. Lindsey Holmes expressed concern that lawmakers were playing doctor, noting, "I am kind of uncomfortable telling a doctor this is the exact right list."

In addition to trying to overrule medical best practice and instruct doctors on how to practice medicine, a majority of lawmakers rejected a provision of the bill that would have expanded access to family planning assistance and birth control for low-income men and women.

"It is an anti-abortion bill that now serves to increase the number of abortions," state Democratic state Rep. Les Gara.


LeDoux defended that Alaska already provides funding for family planning services and birth control. "Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean we've done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services," she said.

But Alaska has not done "just about everything" to expand access. Alaska is one of the many states to have rejected the Medicaid expansion, which would have made health care -- including birth control -- accessible for 40,000 additional Alaskans. And when it comes to family planning services -- including sex education -- school districts in Alaska are not required to teach students about issues of sexual health and awareness, which is probably why do so many do not.




Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abortion Care Abortion Rights Alaska Birth Control Reproductive Health Women's Health