Alaska lawmaker under fire after ‘free trip’ abortion claim

AP Photo/Mark Thiessen,File

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska lawmakers on Friday demanded a public apology from a Republican legislator who said there are women in Alaska who try to get pregnant to get a “free trip to the city” for abortions.

Pressure mounted on Rep. David Eastman, who has cited concerns with abortions being covered by state funds and Medicaid, a government program for lower-income people.

But Eastman, who is from Wasilla, remained defiant Friday and called for hearings on abortion funding.

The dustup began earlier this week, after Eastman was successful in amending a resolution aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse to include language referring to abortion as “the ultimate form of child abuse.”

He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that abortion is a serious issue that needs to be discussed. He raised in particular concerns about funding for abortions.

“We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle,” he said.

Eastman, who is a member of the House minority, made similar comments to another media outlet later.

In a speech on the House floor Friday, Democratic Rep. Neal Foster of Nome said Eastman’s comments were unacceptable and said he hoped Eastman would apologize.

“It shocks the conscience to think that a female in a village would want to endure the physical and the emotional pain of getting an abortion just so that they could get a free trip to Anchorage,” Foster said.

Most of the women who live in villages that Foster represents are Alaska Native and feel Eastman’s comments were directed toward them, Foster said. Many Alaska communities are not connected to a road system and smaller communities often have limited health services that necessitate travel to larger communities for care.

When asked if he felt he had anything he need to apologize for, Eastman said he would be glad to speak with Foster and “understand exactly what he’s getting at.”

Following the floor session, the House majority caucus distributed a letter to Eastman signed by Foster, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and two other rural lawmakers, demanding a public apology. Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, said she may seek a motion to censure Eastman. She called Eastman’s comments “deeply offensive, racist in nature and misogynistic.”

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds medically necessary services for others with financial needs.

A superior court judge in 2015 ruled that an Alaska law further defining what constitutes a medically necessary abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding was unconstitutional. The state has appealed that ruling.