The ACLU of Alaska is celebrating Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s capitulatation to a court order that he restore money he vetoed from the Alaska Court System last year shortly after the Supreme Court said his administration had to pay for elective abortions.
Dunleavy originally used his constitutionally guaranteed line-item veto power to cut $334,700 from the court’s 2020 budget. This was the exact amount the Supreme Court ordered the state to spend on abortions through Alaska’s Medicaid program. The governor made the same cuts to the 2021 court budget.
While many were expecting Dunleavy to appeal this case to the Alaska Supreme Court, he did not.
The ACLU brought suit against the state, claiming Dunleavy’s vetos threatened the independence of the court when it comes to ruling on controversial issues like abortion. Last month Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson said the governor’s actions were unconstitutional and ordered him to void his $334,700 veto to the 2021 court budget.
While many were expecting Dunleavy to appeal this case to the Alaska Supreme Court, he did not. The ACLU, one of the leading proponents of abortion in Alaska, bragged about its victory and used the occasion to accuse Dunleavy of “brazen and repeated attacks on our state.”
“From President Trump to Governor Dunleavy, we’ve seen our elected servants try to shred the core tenets and fundamental fabric of our democratic republic,” a Jan. 12 statement by the ACLU claimed. “Two years after we sued Governor Michael J. Dunleavy for retaliating against Alaska’s courts for upholding their Constitutional oath and illegally vetoing $334,700 from their budget, we conclusively won: the courts’ money has been restored, Governor Dunleavy’s vetoes were declared unconstitutional, and he’s not going to appeal.”
The dispute over state-funded abortions is likely to come up again when the 32nd Legislature convenes later this month.
Dunleavy’s original veto was inspired by an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that ordered the state to foot the bill for low income women who wanted elective abortions. The high court ruled against a law passed by the Legislature that strictly limited such funding to instances when the mother’s life is in danger or when the baby was conceived through rape or incest.
Dunleavy didn’t stop state funded abortions outright but did make a statement by docking the court by the exact amount it insisted the state pay for elective abortions.
In reality, however, Dunleavy’s administration has no authority to fund elective abortions since the State Legislature has strictly forbidden this in budgets it has passed. By complying with the Supreme Court ruling and funding abortions anyway, Dunleavy is effectively spending money in a manner not authorized by the Legislature.
The ACLU said its lawsuit was about protecting the ability of pregnant low-income women to “choose whether they want to be a parent.”
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“We’re proud of our win, but we would have been happier if we hadn’t had to sue in the first place,” the ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua Decker said. “It’s wrong that Governor Michael J. Dunleavy used his personal views about abortion to threaten the independence of Alaska’s judges.”
Decker added that the ACLU’s lawsuit was “able to set a precedent that in Alaska, might doesn’t make right, and holding a powerful position does not allow you to break the law and threaten peoples’ rights without consequence. With your help, we defended American democracy, and now more than ever, that’s a victory for all of us.”
The question of state-funded abortions is likely to come up again when the 32nd Legislature convenes later this month. Sen. Shelley Hughes has re-introduced a resolution for the upcoming legislative session which calls for a constitutional amendment. It state: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution may be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the State to fund an abortion.” If the resolution passes, the proposed amendment would be placed before voters at the next general election.