Rural House members demand apology from Rep. Eastman over abortion remarks

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks during a House floor session in March. He hasn’t apologized for comments he made about Alaska women being glad to become pregnant so they can travel for abortions. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Alaska House members are demanding Rep. David Eastman apologize for saying some women are glad to become pregnant so they can receive Medicaid-funded travel to have abortions. So far, he’s declined.

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Eastman hasn’t backed down from comments he made earlier this week. The Wasilla Republican said there are “individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion, because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved.”

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster joined with three other rural representatives – Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, Dean Westlake of Kotzebue and Zach Fansler of Bethel – in demanding Eastman apologize. Foster said on the House floor Friday that he, his constituents and people across Alaska are shocked.

“It shocks the conscience to think that a female in a village would want to endure the physical and the emotional pain of getting an abortion just so they can get a free trip to Anchorage,” Foster said. “Most of the women who live in the villages that I represent are Alaska Native and they feel like these comments were directed toward them.”

Many of Foster’s fellow representatives signaled their support by thumping on their desks.

Eastman spoke after Foster. He didn’t apologize. He did call for legislative hearings on Medicaid funding for travel for abortions.

“I would ask, because of the interest in this issue, because of confusion, certainly because of media reports which have not allayed that confusion, that rather than taking the word of my constituents or my word that we have a hearing to delve into how our funds are currently being used,” Eastman said.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr then spoke, raising the issue of censuring Eastman.

“This is not a topic I would bring up lightly and it something we should all take very seriously,” Tarr said. “But there are comments that continue to be made that are so deeply offensive, racist in nature and misogynistic that I think that this body should consider censuring one of our members.”

The last time a lawmaker was censured was in the early 1990s, when the Senate censured Democrat George Jacko for a series of ethics-law violations.

Eastman’s comments have received criticism from both parties, including from Republican Minority Leader Charisse Millett on Thursday.

“That statement was incredibly hurtful,” Millett said. “That’s not the feeling that we have in our caucus. That’s not the caucus position. I hope that Rep. Eastman has some time to reflect on his comments.”

The House majority has asked attorneys to research the censure process.