As state legislatures across the Lower 48 move to ban or severely restrict access to abortion, an Alaska lawmaker well-known for his opposition to abortion is trying to revive an earlier attempt to enact a ban in Alaska — though the measure seems unlikely to succeed.
House Bill 178, introduced by Republican Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, on the last day of the legislative session, would define life as beginning at conception, effectively outlawing all abortions in the state.
1,261 abortions were performed in Alaska in 2018, a number that’s remained more or less stable over the past five years, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
Under Eastman’s proposed law, a person who terminates their pregnancy would face murder charges punishable by up to life in prison. The bill would also render any future federal laws guaranteeing abortion access unenforceable in Alaska.
HB 178 is a revised version of a similar bill Eastman introduced in 2017, according to Pat Martin, director of outreach and development for Alaska Right to Life, which helped draft both bills.
“It’s out of care for both the babies and their mothers that we advocate for the end of abortion,” Martin said.
Neither bill makes exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
The 2017 bill died in committee, and it looks as though Eastman’s most recent attempt will face the same fate. Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage, who co-chairs the House Health and Social Services Committee, told a group of demonstrators opposed to Eastman’s bill in downtown Anchorage on Saturday that she wouldn’t allow the measure to advance.
“We’re not going to give this bill the light of day because it doesn’t deserve the light of day,” Spohnholz said.
She argued that the bill attempts to circumvent the state constitution’s “right to privacy" provision, a broad inclusion that Martin of Alaska Right to Life said has been misinterpreted.
“It had nothing to do with anything abortion-related, medical-related,” he said. “It had everything to do with privacy in relation to our communication.”
The bill would amend the clause by explicitly prohibiting it from protecting abortion.
The Health and Social Services Committee is the first of three committees the bill would have to pass through to get a vote. The bill will remain in play through the next half of the two-year legislative session, which resumes in January, though Spohnholz says she will refuse to take it up.
She credited the Legislature’s bipartisan coalition for halting the bill, claiming that without the coalition, the House would have a Republican majority, and the bill would likely have advanced and received a vote.
HB 178 comes on the tail of several similar measures that have passed or been proposed in the Lower 48, including a total bans in Alabama and a near-total ban in Georgia. When a similar measure was introduced in Alaska, abortion rights advocates, like Violet Kaye, were outraged.
“I had been watching the other states crash and burn and have these awful, restrictive laws in place,” Kaye said. “I was just sitting there on a computer screen, angry and trying to support people in other states, and so when it comes to home, I was like, ‘I’ve been ready. I’ve been ready for this.’”
Even with Spohnholz’ commitment to killing the proposed bill, hundreds of people turned out Saturday to protest the measure at a demonstration Kaye organized in Anchorage’s Town Square Park.
Eastman, who introduced the measure, is no stranger to anti-abortion advocacy. He’s been an outspoken opponent of abortion and was censured by the House in 2017 for comments he made implying women in rural Alaska seek abortions to get a “free trip to the city.”
On Saturday, he defended his proposed bill.
“At another time in our nation’s history there were large rallies and some even moved their entire families in an effort to keep slavery free and legal," Eastman said in an emailed statement to the Daily News. "Some Americans even renounced their citizenship in order to protect their rights to own slaves. Today’s rallies for the ‘choice’ to do what you want to those waiting to be born are no less inhumane. I stand with a child’s right to live.”