JUNEAU — An Alaska lawmaker who set off a firestorm by suggesting women try to get pregnant for a “free trip to the city” for abortions is a military veteran and first-year representative who has developed a reputation for being outspoken in his conservative beliefs.
Rep. David Eastman, a Republican from Wasilla, is a firefighter and father of two young children.
Eastman found himself in the hot seat last week when he discussed his concerns about the use of state funds and Medicaid for abortions. In an interview with The Associated Press, he said there are not many places “where you have the kinds of incentives for abortion that we have in this state.”
“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.
Eastman made similar comments later to a public radio reporter.
The backlash was swift, with lawmakers, including Eastman’s own Republican caucus, calling on him to apologize.
Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat who suggested Eastman be censured, called his comments “deeply offensive, racist in nature and misogynistic.”
Many Alaska Natives live in rural communities, where health services are limited and travel often is needed to access care in larger communities.
Alaska has restrictions in place that Planned Parenthood says effectively force women seeking a second-trimester abortion to travel out of state for procedures.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, and Rep. Charisse Millett, the House Republican leader, said Monday that they had heard nothing from Eastman in response to separate requests that he apologize.
Edgmon said nothing had been determined as to what further steps, if any, might be taken.
During a brief floor session, Eastman gave a speech about a mine. He avoided reporters in leaving the floor.
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.
The state health department says it uses the same out-of-state travel policy regardless of the medical service being provided but has not provided details.
In response to Eastman’s comments, Liz Medicine Crow, president and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute, a nonprofit that works to help Alaska Natives, said she believes leadership of the House majority and minority caucuses “understand the incredible trauma that this type of commentary and hate speech can create. That’s why they’ve taken the serious action that they’ve already taken and I’d just love to see what that follow-through will look like. I think many of us are watching.”
In a letter shared by Eastman’s office, Pamela Samash, president of Right to Life Interior Alaska, praised Eastman’s anti-abortion stance. She wrote that she is offended by women “who use abortion as birth control.”
“The big question is the whole picture: What happened to mother-child bond?” she said in an interview.
Tuckerman Babcock, chair of the state Republican Party, said a censure “smacks of thought police.” But he said Eastman’s comments were inexcusable and hopes he apologizes.
“I would hate to see him fail to do that because he’s smart and very energetic and taking on a lot of good fights,” Babcock said. “It’s his first term. Everybody makes mistakes but you need to own up to your mistakes.”