Representative David Eastman became the first member of the Alaska House to be censured on Wednesday. The House voted 25 to 14 to condemn Eastman for saying some women – including those who live in villages — are glad to become pregnant so they can receive Medicaid-funded travel to have abortions.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz said Eastman’s comments merited censure. Censure is a formal condemnation but doesn’t carry any other repercussions.
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“When one member of this body brings the dignity of the institution into question, it’s incumbent upon all of us to act to defend it,” Spohnholz said. “The representative from the northwestern part of the Mat-Su calls into question the character of women from rural Alaska and offended the dignity of all women.”
Eastman said his comments weren’t intended to blame any woman or group. Other legislators described his remarks as racist and misogynistic.
“I did not want them to be used in any way that would hurt anyone,” Eastman said. “I understand that people were hurt by them. And I’m very sorry that I said them. I’m very sorry that people were hurt.”
Eastman also expressed concern about the effect of political correctness.
“We have a choice as a society on whether we will lean more towards focusing on what is being talked about – what’s intended by a statement – or focusing more on how someone could have interpreted that statement,” Eastman said.
Members from both the mostly Democratic majority and the Republican minority condemned Eastman’s comments.
Bethel Democrat Zach Fansler said concern from constituents in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta led to his vote for censure.
“The women of the Y-K Delta will not forget,” Fansler said. “They will not forget that it was stated that someone would spend months pregnant to allow them to travel – an offensive and impermissible statement.”
Most minority members say censuring Eastman would set a bad precedent.
The only two Alaska legislators to be censured were both senators. They were George Hohman in 1982 — related to a bribery conviction that led to his expulsion. And George Jacko in 1993 for sexually harassing teenage girls.