On Wednesday, the Alaska Senate shot down a health bill that would expand a program that provides medical services to the low-income children and pregnant women. The 14-year-old program, Denali Kid Care, is specifically “designed to ensure that children and teens of both working and non-working families can have the health insurance they need.” The bill seeks to “restore the original income eligibility threshold established more than a decade ago, raising it from the current 175 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty line” — a move that bill sponsor State Sen. Bettye Davis (D) said would cover nearly 1,300 more children and about 250 pregnant women. But the bill — which passed the Senate last year 15 to 4 — failed this year. The obstacle? A woman’s right to choose.
The Alaska Supreme Court holds that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds medically necessary services for others with financial needs. The mere possibility that a woman could have even a “medically necessary” abortion under this health insurance program was enough for Republicans to stall the bill in a 10 to 10 vote:
— Abortion was a key issue in floor debate Wednesday. Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said he believes the Senate has shown a propensity for standing up for children and families but that he in good conscience could not vote for a bill that would help some but also result in abortions.
— “I think there are just a lot of unknowns about what is ‘medically necessary,’ what is considered an abortion,” said Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), who did not support the bill.
According to Davis, the program expansion “might” fund 22 abortions. But that hypothetical number was enough for 9 Republicans and 1 Democrat to block coverage for over 1,000 Alaskan women and children. “Six Senators who voted for the measure last year voted against it today.” Only one Republican — state Sen. Lesil McGuire — supported the measure, stating “that the Senate cannot turn its back on pregnant women who need help.”
While Davis reserved the right to reconsider the bill later, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) — who vetoed the very same bill last year over abortion — said “he cannot envision a scenario in which he’d support an expansion.”