Alaska on Tuesday joined a small number of conservative states that have used the COVID-19 pandemic to temporary ban elective abortions, a move that Planned Parenthood called a “shameful” but unsurprising from Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
The action came as part of an updated health order that called for health care providers to put a halt to several “non-urgent or elective procedures,” including many types of cancer surgeries, a long list of gynecological surgeries and several other fields of surgery.
The sweeping order is intended to preserve the health care system’s limited supply of personal protective equipment and minimize the number of people coming and going to local hospitals for these procedures.
Many of the guidelines call for surgeries to be delayed for as much as three months or for physicians to consider alternative forms of treatment. The guidelines for some of the gynecological procedures, including surgical abortion, says they “could be delayed for a few weeks.”
During a news conference on Tuesday night, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said it’d be left up to the “professional judgment” of providers on the time frame, adding that the state was following the guidance of the American College of Surgeons.
However, the American College of Surgeons’ guidelines doesn’t actually put abortion under its list of surgeries that “could be delayed for a few weeks.” Instead the group listed pregnancy termination, whether it’s for medical reasons or patient request, under the list of “surgeries that if significantly delayed could cause significant harm.”
Jessica Cler, the Alaska director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, condemned the move in a statement, noting the discrepancies between the administration’s claims about the medical guidance on abortion and the actual medical guidance.
“We are disappointed to see Governor Dunleavy go the way of some of the most hostile states in the country on abortion rights, but we are not surprised,” Cler said in a prepared statement. “The bottom line is, abortion is an essential, time-sensitive medical procedure, as medical experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology have recognized. It is shameful to see elected officials exploit a public health crisis to score political points and restrict abortion access. As the people of Alaska do their part to keep each other healthy, we expect our public officials to rise to the challenge of this health care crisis and work to expand access, not restrict care.”
In 2019, Dunleavy vetoed $334,700 from the Alaska Court System because the Alaska Supreme Court overturned an anti-abortion law passed by the Alaska Legislature that sought to limit state funding for abortions to a list of legislator-approved medical reasons. That veto became the source of its own lawsuit and one of the legal grounds for the recall effort targeting the governor.
Dunleavy, on Tuesday, repeated the veto but this time didn’t specifically tie it to the abortion ruling, instead tying it to legislative intent language that called for no Medicaid money to be expended for abortion.