JUNEAU, Alaska — A conservative state lawmaker has successfully tacked an anti-abortion message onto an otherwise innocuous resolution in the Alaska House aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse.
The amendment from Republican Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla refers to abortion as "the ultimate form of child abuse."
He said it would be wrong to discuss child abuse without mentioning abortion.
The amendment was approved by a divided House Rules Committee. The vote on Monday followed an about-face by Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the committee chairwoman who last week refused to hear amendments.
LeDoux, who is part of a House majority coalition composed largely of Democrats, voted for Eastman's proposal.
"I'm not interested in talking about that, thank you," LeDoux told a reporter Tuesday.
Critics said the resolution is not the appropriate place to launch a fight over abortion. Alaska struggles with high rates of sexual assault.
Katie Rogers, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said Tuesday that the Eastman amendment "seeks to shame women who choose abortion," and its addition to the resolution is an "insult to sexual assault survivors."
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said he is not interested in playing "abortion politics" when the measure is supposed to honour women and protect children.
"He's made this an abortion fight now," Gara said of Eastman.
The fate of the resolution is unclear. Typically, measures only go the floor if they have enough votes to pass.
Eastman said it is possible the resolution will go to the House floor and an effort will be made to strip his language.
"Abortion is a very serious issue, and it needs to be talked about," Eastman said in an interview.
He takes issue with the coverage of abortion through Medicaid, a government health insurance program for lower-income people.
"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.
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. An appeal by the state in that case is pending.
Eastman, who was elected last fall, has taken other provocative positions.
His was the lone no vote in the House on bills honouring Hmong and Lao veterans of the Vietnam War and the contribution of 4,000 black U.S. soldiers who endured harsh conditions while building the Alaska Highway during World War II. Eastman has said that one group should not be singled out because of race or heritage.
The dustup over the resolution comes late in an extended legislative session where the major issue facing lawmakers is how to address Alaska's multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
Legislative leaders have said their focus is on a fiscal solution, though the House also has continued to work on unrelated bills.
Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press