Covid-19: Alaska Bans Abortion to Conserve Medical Supplies
Thu, February 2, 2023

Covid-19: Alaska Bans Abortion to Conserve Medical Supplies


The abortion ban would continue until June 15. / Photo by StockKK via Shutterstock


The governor of Alaska has recently banned abortions and other non-essential medical procedures to conserve medical supplies needed to fight Covid-19, reports media outlet LifeNews.

Governor Mike Dunleavy has declared surgical abortions “non-urgent” unless the physical health or life of the mother is endangered by continuing the pregnancy. The goal of postponing some medical procedures, including abortions, is to save the state’s personal protective equipment (PPE) for patients and staff at hospitals. The abortion ban would continue until June 15.


Abortion in Alaska

The US Supreme Court recognized people’s constitutional right to abortion in a 1973 decision (Roe v. Wade) and has reaffirmed it in their subsequent decisions. Along the years, more states have adopted laws to restrict such rights, such as obtaining consent requirements or parental notification for minors, mandated counseling to dissuade other women and girls to obtain an abortion, waiting for period before the abortion, regulations on abortion clinics or facilities, and limitations on public funding.

A total of 1,260 abortions were provided in Alaska in 2017 based on a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing reproductive and sexual health and rights in the US. Not all of these recorded abortions that occurred in Alaska were provided to their state residents as some patients come from other states. In the same way, some Alaska residents opt to travel to another state for an abortion.

In 2017, about 86% of counties in Alaska had no clinics that provide abortions. This is why Governor Dunleavy’s policy has affected rural women the hardest. Human Rights Watch’s senior coordinator in global human resources Dunleavy Schuyler Reid shared the distance that rural women and girls in Alaska have to travel to get to an abortion clinic is equivalent to traveling from New York to Chicago. It’s like taking a snowmobile, a bus, and two flights.


Abortions are essential and urgent healthcare that should not be restricted by the pandemic. / Photo by Gustavo Pantano via Shutterstock


Abortion ban

Schuyler added that the abortion ban has added to the systematic barriers in the healthcare system that some Alaskan communities face. Often, people in need of abortion in the state are survivors of sexual violence. Alaska is even referenced as the most dangerous state for women. Child sexual assault happens in the state at 6 times and rape at 2.5 times the national average.

Pro-abortion medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also said that abortions are essential and urgent healthcare that should not be restricted by the pandemic. However, more than 30,000 pro-life US physicians have denounced such a statement. The pro-life medical groups said that it would be “medically irresponsible” to kill babies during a pandemic. This is because it consumes critical resources, such as gloves, masks, and other PPEs and also unnecessary exposes physicians and patients to pathogens.

The pro-life medical group stated that elective abortion, whether it be drug-induced or surgical, adds patients to emergency rooms already overburdened by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because most abortion providers tell women to head to the emergency room if they experience complications after the procedure and some 5% of women who have chemical abortions do go to the emergency room due to hemorrhage.

Before Alaska declared an abortion ban, the governor of Arkansas also released a letter postponing all procedures and surgeries that are not medically necessary during the pandemic. This includes abortion facilities and ambulatory surgical centers. The state of Indiana has also ordered that their medical resources be preserved to fight Covid-19.



Covid-19, an excuse to enact abortion bans?

The abortion bans in several states in the country are now being challenged in court as its effect can linger even after life returns to normal. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, filed an emergency lawsuit against Arkansas state for banning abortion but permitted dental appointments during the pandemic. Abortion providers have also sued the Louisiana state attorney general and health department for using the Covid-19 mandate for enacting an abortion ban.

Advocacy organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have also asked the federal court to block the statewide bans on surgical abortions in Tennessee during the pandemic. Center for Reproductive Rights’ CEO and President Nancy Northup said, “leading medical experts have been clear that Covid-19 responses should not ban abortion care.”


Public opinion on abortion

Nonpartisan think tank Pew Research Center’s data shows that public opinion on abortion laws differ. Some states where the majority said abortion should be legal in all or most cases are Michigan (54% said it should be legal), Virginia (55%), Illinois (56%), Florida (56%), California (57%), Colorado (59%), Washington (60%), New Jersey (61%), Nevada (62%), Alaska (63%), Oregon (63%), Maine (64%), Maryland (64%), New York (64%), Rhode Island (63%), Hawaii (66%), New Hampshire (66%), Connecticut (67%), Vermont (70%), and Massachusetts (74%).

Meanwhile, the states where a majority of the residents said that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases are Arkansas (60%), Mississippi (59%), Alabama (58%), West Virginia (58%), Louisiana (57%), and Tennessee (55%). Overall, 61% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal and they are consistent with their views although 59% of the public are concerned that some states are making it too difficult to get an abortion while 39% are concerned that some states are making it too easy.



In a study titled Reasons US Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives, the authors concluded that women are typically motivated by diverse, interrelated, and multiple reasons.

Out of 1,160 women in the US surveyed in 2004 about their reasons for aboritions, 38% said having a baby would interfere with her education or employment, 73% said they cannot afford a baby now, 42% said they are unmarried, 22% said  they are unemployed, 48% said they don’t want to be a single mother or they are having relationship problems, 14% said that their husband or partner wants them to have an abortion, 13% have possible problems affecting the health of their fetus, 12% have a physical problem with their health, and 6% said their parents want them to have an abortion.

Unlike some states in the US, Canada has banned every other non-essential surgery except abortion.

Uncertainty during pregnancy is experienced even if there is no pandemic. Another concern for policymakers is that abortion bans may force some women to continue high-risk pregnancies or induce abortions at home even if it’s illegal and dangerous to their health.