Forty Years After Roe v. Wade, Abortion Debate Continues
Access to abortions in Alaska is limited by small number of providers
ANCHORAGE - Today marks the historic anniversary of a woman’s right to have an abortion. The U.S Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade made legalized abortion the law of the land. That was in 1973, three years after Alaska had already legalized the procedure.
But despite the years in which abortion has been legal, the debate continues over whether it should continue to be so in the future. Local right-to-life advocates say the anniversary is a reminder that their mission is far from accomplished.
“Our primary objective is to end abortion in Alaska,” said Alaska Right to Life Executive Director Matt Johnson. “We are convinced this is a person, so we have to protect their inalienable rights just like we would anybody else.”
Alaska has a lower abortion rate than the rest of the country, but some say it’s more a question of access. Some women have to travel great distances to be served by a dwindling number of providers.
“The access issues are incredibly challenging for women in Alaska,” said Planned Parenthood’s Caitlin Hedberg. “Really, the right to have an abortion means nothing if you don’t have access to affordable and high quality abortions.”
Planned Parenthood is one of very few abortion providers in the state. In Anchorage, theirs is one of just two clinics where a woman can go for the procedure. The other is to Dr. Colleen Murphy.
“My services represent a failure of all those other things,” said Murphy, like education and access.
Murphy said better contraception choices would result in fewer abortions, but that there will always be a need for the procedure.
“When their contraception fails, they forget to use it, or if their pregnancy is a result of forced sex that they are able to get the care they need,” said Murphy. “Again, it’s not just about abortion, it’s about reproductive justice.”
Both sides feel strongly on an issue that continues to divide, but for now, is the law of the land.
Still, on the state level, there could be some changes ahead. Just today, North Pole Senator John Coghill announced he will introduce a bill to define the term “medically necessary” when it comes to abortion, which is the type the state is obligated to pay for with Medicaid dollars.