Alaska News

Abortion access in Alaska: What current regulations are, how many are performed and who the average patient is

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Following the landmark Supreme Court decision that stripped away the constitutional right to an abortion in the U.S., abortion services are still legal and protected by the state constitution in Alaska under the state’s privacy clause and several Alaska Supreme Court rulings. But that could change if the constitution changes, either via an amendment or a constitutional convention — which are each being actively pursued by abortion opponents in the state.

Nationally, the impacts of Roe v. Wade being overturned have been profound: About half of states are expected to enact bans or other limits on the procedure to take effect. As of Friday, abortion is now illegal in seven states, with many more bans expected to go into effect soon.

And though abortion remains safe and legal in Alaska, financial and other limitations on access exist in the state for accessing the service.

Here’s a rundown on what abortion access looks like in Alaska.

What are the state’s current regulations around abortion?

In Alaska, it is a requirement that you physically visit an abortion provider’s clinic to receive any kind of abortion service, including a medical (pill) abortion. That poses a major challenge for Alaskans in rural parts of the state who must travel long distances to access care.

Beyond that, there are few legal restrictions in Alaska, said Susan Orlansky, a longtime Anchorage litigator and currently a cooperating counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

While some states have laws and statutes that dictate how far along in a pregnancy an abortion can be legally accessed, Alaska has no gestational limits on abortion, Orlansky said.

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In the absence of state law, restrictions on abortion are decided by individual providers.

There are currently no providers in Alaska who will perform an abortion after the second trimester; patients travel to Seattle to access care later in their pregnancies, Rose O’Hara-Jolley, Alaska State Director with Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Alaska, said in an email.

What kinds of abortions are available in Alaska?

Two types of abortions exist: by pill or by a more involved procedure in a medical clinic. Abortions by pill can be performed during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.

Pill abortions, which accounted for about a third of all abortions performed in Alaska last year, work by taking two prescription medicines days apart to quickly terminate an early pregnancy.

The abortion pill is different from the emergency contraceptive Plan B, which can prevent pregnancy from occurring at all and needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

While some states allow the drugs for pill abortions to be prescribed via a telehealth appointment and sent in the mail, in Alaska, abortion pills must be taken in-person at a clinic.

Procedural abortions — sometimes called surgical abortions, though they don’t actually involve surgery — can be done during the first or second trimester.

How many abortions are performed in the state?

There were 1,226 abortions in Alaska in 2021, according to a state report from the Alaska Division of Public Health. That’s the most recent year with publicly available data, and is similar to other recent years.

The vast majority of those procedures — nearly 94% — were performed during the first trimester.

Who’s the typical abortion patient in Alaska?

Last year, the average Alaskan abortion patient was unmarried, was seeking the procedure for the first time (66.2%), was white (53.1%) and was in her 20s or 30s (86.4%), according to state data.

About 52.7% of those who had an abortion in Alaska last year already had one or more children, and 43.8% qualified for Medicaid while 39.5% paid for the procedure on their own. Approximately 9.7% were 19 years old or younger.

Two-thirds of abortion patients — about 67.9% — had a high school education while 25.1% had at least some postsecondary education.

Where can Alaskans go to access abortion services?

Planned Parenthood is the main abortion provider in Alaska, with clinics in Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage. O’Hara-Jolley said they believe there are a few independent providers who offer abortions but do not advertise publicly.

Can Alaskans under 18 access an abortion without parental consent?

Yes. In Alaska, parents don’t need to consent to abortions or be notified that their child or teen is accessing that care. The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state constitution’s privacy clause applies to pregnant minors as well as to adults, Orlansky said.

Recent parental consent and parental notification laws passed in Alaska, but they were both struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court, according to Orlansky.

How much does it cost to get an abortion?

Abortion costs vary by how far along the pregnancy is, O’Hara-Jolley said. The maximum cost someone could spend to get an abortion in Alaska is $1,100.

Insurance companies are not required to include abortion as a covered service, and many require a deductible to have been met first.

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Abortions are nearly always covered for Alaskans with Medicaid following a state Supreme Court ruling.

“Patients using Medicaid coverage for insurance can come to Planned Parenthood to access abortion care because abortion is essential health care,” O’Hara-Jolley said.

The organization also encourages patients to talk to a provider about what resources are available to help them access an abortion, O’Hara-Jolley added. The Northwest Abortion Access Fund is another resource that patients may be eligible for.

Two possible threats to abortion access in Alaska are a constitutional convention and a constitutional amendment. How likely are they?

Alaskans’ constitutional right to an abortion is grounded in a 1997 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court that stated “reproductive rights are fundamental, and that they are encompassed within the right to privacy expressed in article I, section 22 of the Alaska Constitution.”

In November, Alaskans will vote on whether to call a constitutional convention, which could pave the way for a yearslong process to alter the state constitution in a way that allows for a statewide abortion ban. Abortion opponents view a constitutional convention as the likeliest path toward an eventual ban.

Separately, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that he planned to introduce a resolution in the next legislative session for a proposed constitutional amendment “to answer the question whether abortion shall, or not be a constitutionally protected right.”

Passing a constitutional amendment would require approval from two-thirds of the state House, two-thirds of the state Senate and a majority of participating voters in the next general election — something that political observers say is unlikely to happen.

Orlansky said that a constitutional amendment could move faster than a convention.

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”We’ll be watching out for that,” said Mara Kimmel, executive director of ACLU Alaska.

“Our law is, it’s rooted in the right to privacy, which is explicit in the constitution, but abortion is not explicitly named in the constitution,” Kimmel said. “So if the constitution changes, our rights change.”

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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