Alaska Abortion Limits for Medicaid Patients Put on Hold

An Alaska regulation limiting when the state will pay for abortions for women on Medicaid was put on hold by a state judge who said it could cause patients to delay or forego the procedure when it’s medically necessary.

Judge John Suddock in Anchorage ordered the state not to put the rule into effect pending the outcome of a hearing over a request to permanently block it sought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

“Planned Parenthood raises serious issues going to the merits of the validity of the regulation,” Suddock said in an order yesterday. Patients “may be forced to delay an abortion while they raise funds, until it becomes riskier; or they may be forced to carry to term against their medical and practical best interests.”

The Alaska measure, which was scheduled to take effect Feb. 2, is one of more than 200 abortion restrictions passed nationwide since a Republican-led state-legislative push began in 2011. More state abortion restrictions were passed during that time than in the entire previous decade, according to a Jan. 2 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights advocacy organization.

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging the regulation last month, claiming it narrowed the definition of “medically necessary” abortions covered by Medicaid by requiring doctors seeking reimbursement for the procedure to sign a certificate saying the abortion is necessary to avoid the impairment of a major bodily function. The impairment must be related to a specific health condition specified by the state, such as severe kidney infection, coma or congestive heart failure, according to the complaint.

Previously, the regulation, which also provides for state-funded abortions in cases of rape and incest, allowed reimbursement for medical necessity as determined by doctors.

The case is Planned Parenthood v. Streur, Alaska Superior Court (Anchorage).

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