The heated debate about abortion bans going on in states throughout the country might be coming to the Alaska Legislature next year.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, filed legislation last week to make abortion illegal. The bill, House Bill 178, defines abortion as “murder of an unborn child.”
HB 178 will not be on the Legislature’s agenda until it reconvenes in January 2020. Though lawmakers are still meeting, they are in a special session called by the governor, and according to state statute, the Legislature can only address topics outlined by the governor during special session.
In his proclamation of a special session, Gov. Mike Dunleavy tasked the Legislature with dealing with finishing the state budget, finishing a crime bill and developing a plan for future education funding.
HB 178 was referred to the House Health and Social Services, Judicial and Finance committees. The Health and Social Services Committee could take it up when the Legislature resumes its regular session in January 2020.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, is the co-chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee, and told the Associated Press last Friday that she will not hear the bill. She told AP that she has “no interest in making it illegal for women to get an important health care procedure.”
Jessica Cler, the Alaska state director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement to the Empire that HB 178 is almost certainly unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade ruled that state regulation on abortion is unconstitutional.
This year, Legislatures in Alabama and Missouri have passed legislation banning abortions. Opponents believe these laws won’t stand up to constitutional challenges, but Cler still said this wave of anti-abortion moves in government is still deeply concerning.
“HB 178 is in line with a trend we are seeing across the country to criminalize abortion,” Cler said. “These bills are dangerous and outrageous. Alaskans have made clear their support for reproductive health care, including abortion. It took generations of struggle to secure the right to control our own bodies. We aren’t about to let a handful of lawmakers erase that progress and strip us of our most fundamental rights.”
This is not new territory for Eastman. He has been critical of coverage of abortion through Medicaid, and was censured by the House in 2017 when he said some Alaska women try to get pregnant to get a “free trip to the city” for abortions.
Eastman, who was in his first term at the time, later apologized for the comments. In her statement to the Empire on Friday, Cler called Eastman’s previous comments “inaccurate and reprehensible.”
He introduced House Bill 250 in 2017 that was known as the Life at Conception Act, which was very similar to the new legislation. That bill did not make it out of House committees.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.