Politics

Abortion access in Alaska remains after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, but a fight is coming

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Women in Alaska will still be able to access abortions following Friday’s earth-shaking U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But the ruling guarantees the battle over abortion here will grow fiercer.

Alaska isn’t among the group of “trigger ban” states where abortion access will swiftly end following the ruling. The state’s constitutional privacy protections and previous rulings by the state Supreme Court have tamped down previous efforts to curb the ability to get an abortion in Alaska.

“The first thing I want everyone in Alaska to know is that Alaska still has safe and legal abortion,” Rose O’Hara-Jolley, state director with Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Alaska, said Friday. “That has not changed.”

But the Supreme Court’s ruling has sent shockwaves through Alaska’s political landscape, especially with the upcoming series of elections this year for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and dozens of legislative seats.

[Dismay, joy and calls to action in Alaska after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade]

And this November, Alaska voters will make the once-per-decade decision whether to call a constitutional convention. Though voters in the past have consistently rejected the idea, both abortion opponents and groups that support abortion access have said they see a convention as the likeliest path toward altering the state constitution, which potentially paves the way for an abortion ban in the state.

Alaska’s courts have previously leaned on a clause in the state constitution protecting individual privacy to preserve access to abortion here. In 1997, the state Supreme Court ruled that “reproductive rights are fundamental, and that they are encompassed within the right to privacy expressed in article I, section 22 of the Alaska Constitution.”

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“These fundamental reproductive rights include the right to an abortion,” the court said.

A different path toward altering that section of the state constitution involves a constitutional amendment passed by the Alaska Legislature — which Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday he plans to introduce in a resolution during the next legislative session. Passing a constitutional amendment in Alaska requires the approval of two-thirds of the state House, two-thirds of the state Senate and a majority of participating voters in the next general election. But that’s currently viewed as a politically unlikely scenario, and groups opposed to abortion are focusing their energy on a constitutional convention.

[What happens next: Full coverage of the Supreme Court decision and its impacts]

“Today is one of the best days of my life, actually,” said Jim Minnery, executive director of Alaska Family Council, a Christianity-based organization that opposes abortion, on Friday after the Supreme Court ruling was issued. “We’re very excited to advance a ‘yes’ vote on the Constitutional Convention.”

Even if a constitutional convention is called, it’s not guaranteed that it will result in an abortion ban in Alaska. Delegates would have to alter the state constitution in a way that allows for a ban, and then voters must approve the changes; even then, it would likely take years for that to play out. A prospective timeline calls for Alaskans to vote on delegates for a constitutional convention in the 2024 statewide election, and a convention would be held after that. Then, Alaskans would have to vote to ratify changes to the constitution, and it could be additional years before that vote takes place.

Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Indiana, Kentucky said in a Friday statement that her organization “will keep fighting with everything we’ve got” to preserve abortion access. There are currently three Planned Parenthood clinics in Alaska that provide abortions, located in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

“Abortion remains safe and legal in Alaska, and our health centers are open and ready to provide you care,” Gibron said.

Daily News reporter Annie Berman contributed to this story. Portions of this story were adapted from reporting that originally appeared in a Dec. 19, 2021 Daily News article.

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