Answer to Alaska’s Abortion-Protecting Judiciary? Life at Conception Act and Responsible Judges Act

Today, the Alaska House of Representatives will hear the Alaska Life at Conception Act read for the first time. While a similar law has been introduced in Congress each of the last several years, this is the first time it has been introduced in the Alaska Legislature. This bill, along with its companion, the Responsible Judges Act, represent a culmination of more than forty years of Pro-Life efforts in Alaska and in other states.

On Monday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives, in the midst of a budget crisis and with a billion dollar budget gap of their own, passed House Resolution 1004, which instructs state officials at every level of government in Oklahoma to recognize the killing of preborn human beings as murder. The resolution itself will force no official to take action, but it does signify a seismic shift in how human rights advocates now aim to pursue the protection of children waiting to be born.

The Alaska Life at Conception Act brings state law into conformity with the Constitution of the State of Alaska, which provides that “all persons have a natural right to life”, “all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights” and “all persons are entitled to equal…protection under the law.” It makes clear, in accordance with established science, that human life begins at conception, and that a child waiting to be born in Alaska is an Alaska resident if the mother of that child is an Alaska resident. Further, it provides that no child awaiting birth may be transported to another state or country for the purposes of taking the life of that child. Taking the life of a child waiting to be born incurs the same penalties as taking the life of any other person.

Alaskans have watched, time after time, as a politically aggressive Alaska Supreme Court has struck down or invalidated one law after another in its quest for limitless abortion paid for frequently by the state. It has declared that the killing of preborn infants is an Alaskan value, placed in our state constitution, and worthy of state funding. Today, 44% of abortions in Alaska are paid for entirely by the state (as no federal monies may be used for that purpose). For those who qualify based on income, and likely for many who do not, Alaska now provides generously for those willing to let a doctor take the life of their preborn infant. For those who happen to find themselves at a distance from an abortion clinic, travel, room and board are provided, all expenses paid, for an expectant mother and her authorized escort. And if the Planned Parenthood clinic in Anchorage is all booked up, or if the pregnancy has reached 14 weeks, Planned Parenthood will arrange for travel to Seattle, as well as lodging and the cost of food for those traveling (all at government expense of course). Each year, Planned Parenthood arranges for 100 such trips to Seattle, a number of which are billed to the state.

An outsider, knowing only these statistics, would likely conclude that Alaskan’s electorate was somewhere on the political spectrum between Vermont and Oregon, each of which pay for a similarly large percentage of the abortions taking place in their state each year. It is unlikely that observer would peg Alaska for a red state. After all, legally speaking, Alaska has no limits on abortion. Its law requiring parental consent was struck down by its exceedingly liberal court. Its law requiring parental notification was likewise struck down. To add insult to injury, in striking it down, a majority of the appointed members of Alaska’s Supreme Court effectively awarded Planned Parenthood more than $1 million in attorney’s fees last year. Even Alaska’s ban on partial-birth abortion, taking the life of a helpless infant in the very process of being born, has been invalidated by the five appointed members of the Alaska Supreme Court.

These events have led previous legislatures to focus the whole of their pro-life efforts on meager attempts simply to limit state funded abortions to those that are medically necessary. That law passed as well. Unsurprisingly, the Alaska courts have prevented that law from going into effect as well.

So is that simply the end of the story? Has Alaska’s Supreme Court simply assumed the power to write Alaska’s abortion laws, with or without the participation of the legislature? To our casual observer it might seem so. But it is in fact the legislature who is empowered to write laws, to amend them, and to repeal them. Nowhere in Alaska’s state constitution is that power entrusted to the courts. To reinforce that fact, the constitution gives the legislature ample tools to protect the power it has been given.

The Responsible Judges Act provides that any Alaska judge or justice who attempts to exercise legislative power is guilty of malfeasance and may be impeached by the legislature and removed from office in accordance with the state constitution. It also makes clear that impeachment of a judge or justice by the legislature may not be overturned by the courts. With that initial check upon the courts in place, the Alaska Life at Conception Act provides that any lawsuit challenging it constitutionality in state court may only be heard by the Alaska Supreme Court in a process specifically laid out for that purpose. Further, state officials who enforce any provision of the act are provided immunity from prosecution for good faith actions taken while in the performance of their official duties. Regardless of the machinations of its courts, the State of Alaska has a duty to protect the life of every Alaskan, and the Alaska Life at Conception Act of 2017 provides the means for the state to finally fulfill this duty.

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