In the midst of what can only be described as a travesty of justice for pregnant people in Texas, Legal Voice, together with Planned Parenthood Great Northwest Hawai'i. Alaska, Indiana, and Kentucky (PPGNHAIK) just secured a major win in Alaska. In a strongly worded opinion, the Superior Court in Alaska granted our request for a preliminary injunction to enable advanced practice clinicians (i.e. advanced registered nurse practitioners and physicians) to provide medication abortion.
Abortion has been legal in Alaska for more than 50 years, since before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. But that doesn’t mean much if pregnant people can’t get the care that’s their legal right.
Laws designed to curb access to providers has made that hard, but Alaska also suffers from a shortage of physicians, particularly those specializing in women’s health. As a result, many Alaskans rely on nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and other advanced practice clinicians (APCs) to meet their primary and reproductive health care needs, including services of even greater complexity than abortion.
Despite the critical role APCs play in providing health care to Alaskans, and even though early abortion care is extraordinarily safe, Alaska law singles out abortion and makes it a crime for APCs—even those supervised by physicians—to provide this care.
A range of medical authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have concluded that laws prohibiting APCs from providing abortion care are medically unfounded. Moreover, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pharmaceuticals, allows APCs to provide medication abortion.
Banning these highly skilled, highly qualified professionals from providing this care, significantly constrains when and where abortion is available in Alaska. As a result, many women seeking abortion face significant and expensive travel burdens and delayed access to care. This disproportionately harms those who already face systemic barriers to health care, including people of color, people with low incomes, and people living in rural areas. These same communities also experience disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy and negative pregnancy outcomes as a result of the long legacy of systemic racism and reproductive oppression and coercion in the United States.
That is why Legal Voice has partnered with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands to challenge Alaska's unfair law in court. Our argument is simple: These restrictions are both medically unjustified, and a violation of Alaskans’ constitutional rights, which harm Alaska women and the APCs who are legally barred from caring for them.
And today’s ruling shows that the Court has heard our message loud and clear, finding that:
“Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim that prohibiting advanced practice clinicians from providing medication abortion violates patients’ rights to privacy under the Alaska constitution by significantly restricting the availability of abortions in this state without sufficient justification. The law also likely violates patients right to equal protection since it prevents patients from seeking abortion from receiving care from advanced practice clinicians that patients experiencing miscarriage may receive from the same providers.”
Today’s ruling is great news for the many Alaskans, especially those from the most marginalized communities, who face tremendous barriers to accessing abortion care thanks to medically unnecessary legal restrictions like the APC ban. As exciting as this ruling is, though, it also underscores how different abortion access will look from state to state should the Supreme Court gut the protections of Roe v. Wade, as many expect it will do this term.