Trial Challenging Restrictions For Medicaid-Funded Abortions Continues In Anchorage

State attorneys are about to finish questioning witnesses for the defense in a trial that could determine whether or not the state removes some restrictions for Medicaid – funded abortions for low income women.

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Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest filed suit against the state Department of Health and Social Services, alleging that the state’s statute restricting Medicaid abortions puts a burden on pregnant women of low economic status, because physical and mental health risks related to pregnancy are exacerbated by poverty.

State assistant Attorney General Margaret Payton-Walsh, says the state statute, passed last year, was enjoined before it went into effect. The law lists specific life threatening physical conditions as criteria for women seeking Medicaid paid abortions. Payton-Walsh says Medicaid puts restrictions on other types of medical treatments, too.

“We’ve offered as exhibits and evidence in this case to show that Medicaid applies these sorts of criteria in lots of different ways,” Payton-Walsh said. “And there’s nothing particularly unusual about this setup where you have to meet a special set of circumstances in order for Medicaid to reimburse.”

Payton-Walsh says the statute only seeks limit Medicaid sponsored abortions to those that are “medically necessary.”

“We need to understand what makes an abortion medically necessary,” Payton-Walsh said. “There needs to be a definition. This statute is designed to create that definition and to try to exclude what most people would think of as being elective abortion.”

Planned Parenthood chief counsel Laura Einstein argues that socio-economic factors are valid reasons for abortion.

“We’re talking about the most vulnerable population. These women are already on Medicaid, so already they are people who will be struggling economically and some of them in a much more destitute situation,” Einstein said. “So when you start suggesting that they don’t have a medical reason to have abortion and then you couple that with the financial burden that falls on them in trying to pay for that service themselves, then we think that is a serious constitutional violation.”

Einstien says medicine is not a list of conditions, and that physicians need to take into account the totality of a patient’s circumstances.

“What we are hoping to achieve is that the judge strikes down the statute and the regulation that those are so limiting that they violate a women’s right to abortion, which is her right under the Alaska constitution,” Einstein said.

Closing statements are expected to be heard Wednesday.