Alaska Legislature

Mat-Su Republican proposes bill that would define life as beginning at conception

JUNEAU — A Republican state lawmaker has proposed a bill that could limit abortion access in Alaska by defining human life as beginning at conception.

Rep. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake is sponsoring a bill that would include new definitions of “person” and “life” under Alaska’s criminal statutes. The bill, which is unlikely to pass the full Legislature, was introduced last year.

The House Judiciary Committee heard more than an hour of public testimony on the bill Monday, the vast majority of which opposed the measure.

In a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee last week, McCabe said his intention with the bill was not to limit abortion access — which is protected under the state constitution — but Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said Friday that the bill “redefines a person to include a fetus,” meaning abortion providers could face criminal prosecution under the state’s statutes.

Skidmore said the bill would allow the Department of Law to file murder charges against abortion providers. However, he acknowledged that the Alaska constitution protects the right to abortion.

“Would those charges be allowed to move forward in the court system? That would be the subject of the litigation,” said Skidmore.

The Department of Law predicted that if the legislation were to advance, it “will be the subject of significant litigation surrounding language interpretation and how the legislation is applied,” in part because of the way it conflicts with the privacy clause in the Alaska Constitution.


Because of the likely litigation, the department said it could not determine the eventual cost of passing the legislation.

At Monday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting, several women testified describing their experience seeking abortions as a result of medical conditions or domestic violence that put their lives at risk. Surveys have consistently found that a majority of Alaskans support protecting abortion access.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said he supports limiting abortion access but would not advance legislation to that effect.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled this month that frozen embryos are considered children under that state’s law, raising questions about the implications for what is considered by many to be a standard fertility treatment.

Skidmore said the proposed Alaska bill could make it illegal for health care providers to dispose of frozen embryos following in vitro fertilization procedures, or IVF.

The House Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on whether to advance the bill. If it passes the House Judiciary Committee, it could advance directly to a vote on the House floor.

The bill would change the definition of “person” under Alaska law to include “an entity that has the moral right of self determination” and define the word “life” as meaning “the property or quality that distinguishes a living organism from a dead organism or inanimate matter and that is manifested in the function of a metabolism, growth, reproduction, a response to stimuli, or adaptation to the environment, each of which originates within the organism.”

According to a tally by NBC News, 12 states have introduced so-called “personhood bills,” which seek to limit abortion access by defining life as beginning at conception. Such laws have been enacted in Missouri, Alabama and Georgia. In Arizona, such a law has been passed but is blocked by the courts.

“I believe that there are medical procedures that can be performed that a doctor is protected from,” McCabe, the bill sponsor, told lawmakers Friday. “So an abortion, for whatever reason, is between the doctor in his decision and a woman. I don’t think that we are going to go — and it’s not the intent of this bill — to send storm troopers into an abortionist’s office or a doctor that had to perform an abortion for one reason or another. That’s not the intent of this bill.”

“It’s simply my intent to put a definition of life in here,” said McCabe.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at