A member of the Alaska House of Representatives was censured Wednesday for comments he made implying some Alaskan women get abortions for free travel.
Rep. David Eastman, a Republican from Wasilla, told Alaska Public Media some women take advantage of Medicaid-funded travel for medically necessary abortions.
“You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved,” Eastman told the outlet, which published the comments May 3. Eastman also made a similar statement to The Associated Press.
The comments were in reference to a sexual assault and child abuse awareness bill Eastman successfully amended to include a line about abortion, calling it “the ultimate form of child abuse.”
Furor over the comments was immediate. Angry women’s rights advocates excoriated Eastman on social media and published his contact information, including his cell phone number. A regional Planned Parenthood representative also criticized his comments, telling the Alaska Dispatch News living in a remote state sometimes necessitates travel for “all kinds of care.”
In Alaska, “village” can sometimes be a coded reference to indigenous people who live in rural areas. This led some House Democrats to interpret Eastman’s comments as racially charged.
Wednesday, the House decided to formally censure Eastman, by a vote of 25-14.
“Rep. Eastman’s repeated comments impugning the motives of women seeking healthcare in Alaska are offensive and false,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, in a House statement.
Eastman is the first Alaska House representative to be censured, but the motion is essentially a public admonition requiring no additional punishment.
“I hope that there will be no further times where something like this should happen,” he said during a House floor session Wednesday. “I do ask for forgiveness from any and every person who has been hurt by what I said.”