Nomeites express support for women’s right to choose
By Megan Gannon
By overturning Roe vs. Wade last month, the U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion leaving it up to states to legislate and regulate if and when an abortion can take place.
Facing that new political reality, Sue Steinacher couldn’t let the Fourth of July holiday pass without making her dissent known.
“I just feel like we’ve forgotten what really we celebrate on the Fourth of July, given the liberties and freedoms and independence that have just been taken away,” Steinacher said. The holiday, she added, “is about celebrating the revolt against the control that Britain had over the over the colonists. Not all the colonists were in favor of revolution, or were throwing tea into the Boston Harbor. But enough were.”
She asked like-minded Nomeites to join her during the annual Independence Day parade with signs. About 15 people walked alongside her with American flags, red-white-and-blue hats and placards with slogans like “Stars and Stripes and Reproductive Rights,” or “Can’t celebrate freedom while it’s being taken away.” Riding on the back of an ATV, Pat Booth held a sign that declared: “Now You’ve Pissed Off Grandma.”
“I think a lot of people who are opposed to abortion think that it’s like backup birth control for casual sex, not understanding all of the complexities behind how a pregnancy occurs,” Steinacher said. “We don’t have 100 percent perfect contraception. And about 60 percent of women seeking abortions are parents, they’re moms, they’re protecting the welfare of their existing family by not adding more kids than they can support.” Steinacher expressed frustration with those who oppose abortion and yet don’t allocate enough resources for children born into poverty. “They blame the mothers and yet now they’re forcing it on them,” she said.
Steinacher was wary of stirring controversy, and she asked participants to keep in mind that the parade was a family event as they made their signs. Their showing was well received. As the group came down Front Street, onlookers cheered loudly.
“Nothing was more satisfying, and affirming than the applause as we walked along,” Steinacher said, “That meant so much.”
Abortion access is already limited in rural Alaska
About 1,200 abortions were performed statewide in 2021, and just over half of those patients had already given birth at least once before, according to an annual report from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services.
The overturning of Roe vs. Wade has put a spotlight on how far abortion seekers might have travel to receive care in this new legal landscape where the procedure has become effectively illegal or nearly impossible to access in many U.S. states. But the burden of travel is already a reality for anyone who wants to terminate a pregnancy in rural Alaska.
Planned Parenthood in the state is not currently experiencing wait times to access abortion care, Mack Smith, a communications manager for the regional branch of the organization that covers Alaska, told The Nome Nugget. But Juneau, Anchorage or Fairbanks are the only cities with providers. The Nugget confirmed that Norton Sound Health Corporation refers patients seeking an abortion in the Bering Strait region out of the area.
Though some follow-up appointments can be done remotely, currently the clinics in Alaska do not offer any direct-to-patient telemedicine type of abortion care and all procedures require an in-clinic visit.
Available in some parts of the U.S., direct-to-patient telehealth allows patients to receive abortion medications by mail or pick them up from a clinic after consulting with a provider remotely, according to Terri-Ann Thompson, a senior research scientist at Ibis Reproductive Health, an advocacy group.
“The direct-to-patient models of care have become more commonplace, with many Planned Parenthood affiliates and independent clinics offering this service and now online platforms such as Abortion on Demand, Just the Pill, Hey Jane, and Choix offering this service at a national level,” Thompson told The Nugget. “This model would certainly make abortion more accessible to patients living in more remote areas.”
Ibis researchers have evaluated direct-to-patient models in Australia and “found that they are safe and that patients find them to be convenient and acceptable,” Thompson said. The group’s study found that this model of care was used by more patients in remote and rural regions of Australia. Smith said Planned Parenthood is exploring whether it can expand telemedicine abortion options in Alaska.
There is help for abortion seekers who need to travel and arrange accommodations and childcare to receive care. Medicaid in Alaska can be used to pay for abortion and the travel required; about 43 percent abortion seekers in the state last year used Medicaid. The Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, continues to offer funds for abortions and travel for those who might still need assistance.
Even though abortion remains enshrined under the right to privacy in Alaska’s state constitution, some fear the rules could change. This spring the Alaska House of Representatives attempted to cut Medicaid funding for abortion under an amendment to the state budget proposed by Republican Christopher Kurka of Wasilla.
“At the legislative level, I have not heard from any of my colleagues,” Representative Neal Foster of Nome told The Nugget last week. “But I’m sure it will be a major discussion point when we start session in January.”
“Legislators could push for a constitutional amendment. But that would require a two-third vote in the legislature to put it on the ballot. I don’t see the votes being there in the legislature. That leaves anti-abortion proponents’ best shot being a constitutional convention.”
Even before the latest Supreme Court decision, Foster said there was a lot of discussion about whether a convention could be convened in which majority of delegates could approve amendments to the state’s constitution.
“Many folks don’t want a convention because it can create all kinds of unintended consequences, one of those having to do with banning abortion,” he said.
Governor Mike Dunleavy has issued a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that he intends to introduce a resolution for a proposed constitutional amendment to the legislature in the next session to answer the question whether abortion shall, or not be a constitutionally protected right.