Alaska again joins other Republican states in seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade

The state of Alaska has joined 23 other Republican-led states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the ruling that permits legal abortion in the United States.

On Thursday, the state of Texas submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, saying that Texas and 22 other states agree with an appeal from the state of Mississippi, which is seeking to ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The brief was co-signed by Alaska attorney general Treg Taylor.

Mississippi’s law was struck down by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the state has appealed and is arguing in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and decide “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Even if the court overturns Roe v. Wade, rulings by the Alaska Supreme Court would preserve abortion rights in the state, said Anchorage attorney Donald Craig Mitchell, though the new legal framework could change future rulings.

“If Mississippi wins, women in Alaska — for the moment — are not in jeopardy with respect to the status quo, but they certainly could be,” he said.

Thursday’s amicus brief doesn’t require Alaska or the other states to back Mississippi in court, but it does show that those governments agree with Mississippi.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this fall and render a decision sometime next year.

Former Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson signed a brief last summer that is similar to Thursday’s. That act was not reported at the time, and Clarkson resigned a month later amid scandal. Asked earlier this month whether the brief still represented the state’s position, the Alaska Department of Law did not respond. Until Thursday, it wasn’t clear whether the state supported Mississippi’s appeal.

On Friday, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Dunleavy would not say whether Alaska is supporting the lawsuit at the request of the governor. The spokesman referred questions to the Department of Law, which did not respond. A message to the attorney general, Taylor, was not returned.

Dunleavy has repeatedly said he opposes abortion and in 2019 vetoed funding for Alaska’s appellate courts in an attempt to punish the Alaska Supreme Court for decisions protecting abortion rights. The governor’s action was ruled unconstitutional and overturned.

Since 1997, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that privacy protections in the state constitution include the right to obtain an abortion. The court has repeatedly overturned legislative attempts to limit abortion rights.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would redefine the constitution’s privacy clause to exempt abortion, thus allowing the state to restrict it.

“I’m kind of tired with the judiciary branch making policy decisions, and so my constitutional amendment would allow Alaskans to decide where they want to come down on that issue. Right now, we cannot,” she said.

The amendment faces a “tough” route to passage through the Legislature, she said.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, voted against the amendment in committee and believes that it will not pass, “I think because enough senators see it as a reduction in Alaska women’s right to be free of the government telling them what they can and can’t do.”

Hughes said there is another possibility. Next year, Alaskans will be asked in November whether they want to call a constitutional convention. That question appears on the statewide ballot every 10 years. If Alaskans vote yes, Hughes said the topic of abortion could come up in a convention.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, on her proposed constitutional amendment. She said, “I’m kind of tired with the judiciary branch making policy decisions, and so my constitutional amendment would allow Alaskans to decide where they want to come down on that issue. Right now, we cannot.” The words “to decide” were missing in the earlier version of this article.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.