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Alaska Supreme Court rejects laws restricting Medicaid coverage for abortions

The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld a decision blocking the state from implementing two laws that restrict how Medicaid can be used to pay for abortions.

The court had previously held that the state can’t decline Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary" abortions if it pays for other medically necessary care. A statute passed in 2013 defined a medically necessary abortion as one needed to “avoid a threat of serious risk to the physical health of the woman" caused by one of 21 medical conditions.

A regulation that passed a year later was nearly identical to the 2013 law, but included provisions for psychiatric disorders.

A state Superior Court judge blocked the law in 2015 after Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest challenged it as unconstitutional under the state constitution’s equal protection and privacy clause. The organization, along with the ACLU of Alaska and the Center for Reproductive Justice, argued the law would treat women who seek abortions and women who seek to carry pregnancies to term unequally.

The organizations argued that some other pregnancy-related treatments, like scheduled Caesarean sections and induced labor, are covered by Medicaid even though they may be elective rather than medically necessary.

On Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the decision, calling the laws “under-inclusive.”

“The statute and regulation single out only one among multiple purportedly ‘elective’ procedures available to pregnant women for restrictive funding requirements,” the court wrote in its decision.

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, saying he believes the Legislature is allowed to determine what constitutes a “medically necessary” procedure because of limited state funds.

“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,” Stowers wrote in his dissent.

Jessica Cler, Alaska state director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest & Hawaii, said she applauded the decision, calling the two laws “cruel and inequitable."

“This is a win for the women for Alaska because it ensures access to safe and legal abortion,” Cler said.

State Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who sponsored the 2013 law, did not immediately respond Friday to an emailed request for comment.

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