Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest in Court to Protect Abortion Access for Low Income Women in Alaska

Lawsuit seeks to immediately block new regulation that severely restricts abortion coverage through the state Medicaid program

(PRESS RELEASE) Today Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Susan Orlansky of Anchorage, filed a lawsuit in Alaska Superior Court challenging a new regulation that could severely restrict abortion access for low-income women.  The Regulation seeks to circumvent a 2001 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court that the state cannot discriminate in the provision of services under the Medicaid program, and must cover abortions determined to be medically necessary by a woman’s physician.  Instead, the regulation establishes criteria aimed at severely restricting the ability of low-income women to access medically needed abortion services.

“Women’s rights and access to reproductive health care are meaningless if bans on coverage keep high-quality, safe, legal services out of reach,” said Janet Crepps, senior counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “The ability of women who depend on Medicaid for their health care to obtain the care they need from medical professionals they trust must not be interfered with by politicians.”

If allowed to stand, the regulations will go into effect on February 2, 2014 and will have immediate and irreversible consequences for Medicaid-eligible Alaskan women.  The women impacted by this regulation are by definition, low-income, and for many of them, the denial of funding for an abortion will prevent them from obtaining medically necessary services, or cause delays that could be harmful to their health.

“Every Alaskan woman, regardless of income, should be able to make the pregnancy decision that’s best for her,” said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.  “The Alaska Supreme Court has already ruled that women’s pregnancy decisions must be given equal protection under the law.  Politicians and government officials in Juneau should not decide what is ‘medically necessary’ – that’s a private matter between a woman and her doctor.”

Despite strong constitutional protections for abortion coverage, politicians in Alaska have a long history of attempting to improperly restrict Medicaid coverage of abortion.  This new regulation is yet another attempt to interfere with low-income women’s access to abortion services in the state.

“This extreme measure will have devastating consequences for low-income women,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We hope the court will block this measure to ensure that low-income women are able to obtain the health care that they need.”