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Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women in Alaska

(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law and Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) regulation that would have severely limited Medicaid coverage of abortions for low-income women. The decision in Planned Parenthood v. Streur found that the statute and regulation violated the equal protection guarantees of the Alaska Constitution by creating criteria for Medicaid coverage of abortions not imposed on any other service covered by Medicaid.   

“All women deserve access to safe and legal abortion, regardless of income or economic status,” said Janet Crepps, Senior Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s ruling respects over a decade of state Supreme Court precedent and ensures Alaska women covered by Medicaid are not unfairly singled out simply because of their decision to end a pregnancy.”

In 2013, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit in Alaska Superior Court against the state Department of Health and Social Services, alleging that the state’s regulation restricting Medicaid abortions puts a burden on pregnant low-income women who already have the least access to health care in our state.  The regulation was temporarily blocked in February 2014.  Shortly thereafter, in 2014, the Alaska legislature passed a statute defining a “medically necessary abortion” even more narrowly, and a challenge to the statute was added to the litigation. 

“Every Alaskan woman, regardless of income, should be able to make the pregnancy decision that’s best for herself and her family,” said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI). “We applaud the superior court for striking down these cruel restrictions on women’s health and rights that violate the Alaska constitution.”

“For far too long, politicians in Alaska have tried to sidestep constitutional protections that bar restricting access to abortion coverage,” said Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. “Today’s ruling upholds those constitutional safeguards and makes clear that a woman’s health shouldn’t have to suffer simply because she is poor.”

Despite constitutional protections for abortion coverage, politicians in Alaska have a long history of attempting to improperly restrict Medicaid coverage of abortion and today’s decision will ensure that low-income women will continue to have access to abortion services in the state when their physician determines they are medically indicated.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands is represented by its Chief Legal Officer, Laura Einstein; Janet Crepps and Autumn Katz of the Center for Reproductive Rights; teams of attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Alaska counsel Susan Orlansky.

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