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Treg Taylor's attack on privacy
The state of Alaska says it won’t be ratting out people who get or provide abortions, but its attorney general supports other states that do.
Happy Friday, Alaska!
In this edition: The state of Alaska says it won’t be ratting out people who get or provide abortions, but its attorney general supports other states that do. A deeper look at Attorney General Treg Taylor’s attack on privacy and how it’s part of a bigger trend of the Dunleavy administration implementing unpopular policies on Alaskans. Also, the reading list and some weekend watching.
Current mood: 😠
Treg Taylor’s attack on privacy
“The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed.” -Alaska Constitution Article I, Sec. 22
This week, Alaskans found out what Attorney General Treg Taylor was quietly getting up to when we all caught wind of a letter he signed onto that supported states having access to out-of-state abortion records. That’s despite abortion remaining legal in Alaska after the Dobbs decision, guaranteed under the state’s solid constitutional right to privacy.
The background: Taylor and 17 other attorneys general signed onto Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Finch’s letter to the federal government late last month that threatened a lawsuit if it moves forward with proposed rules barring the disclosure of abortions and other procedures to states trying to investigate, sue or prosecute someone by extending the patient privacy law HIPAA. Finch—and Taylor, through his support for the letter—essentially argue that the Dobbs decision turned over the issue of abortion to the states and that laws criminalizing people for obtaining or providing abortion care should pierce the medical privacy law.
Asked if Alaska planned on providing this kind of information to other states or would be seeking it from other states, a spokesperson replied with “No.”
While the letter claims that accusations they’re attempting to criminalize women is just hysteria, that’s precisely the concern here. The end of Roe has seen several conservative states implement harsh abortion bans with limited exemptions (that are rarely granted, according to a New York Times report earlier this year). That means people seeking abortions, including in cases of rape or health complications, must travel to states to seek safe care, but even that might not be safe. Earlier this year, Idaho passed one of the harshest abortion bans in the country that would criminalize helping someone leave the state for an abortion in some cases.
Fear is kind of the point here, Mack Smith, the communications manager at Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, told me. The fear the government may be peeping into your personal health care decisions could be chilling, Smith told me, and prevent people from seeking critical care in the first place.
“Having people fear having open and honest conversations with their providers because they’re afraid the government is going to use that information against them is the worst-case scenario,” Smith said. “That is what the attorney general has signed his name to.”
The response: The response has primarily been disgust with Taylor’s actions. A bipartisan group of legislators responded by penning a letter to the feds supporting the rule, offering a sharp rebuke of the Taylor that notes Alaska voters overwhelmingly supported adding the right to privacy to the Alaska constitution.
“Alaskans amended our constitution decades ago to include the right to privacy, and we believe this right extends to individuals who choose to receive their health care in our state. Further, we believe any release of the medical information of Alaskans should remain part of an aggregate to protect the privacy rights of patients, in accordance with our constitution, and that individual information should continue to be protected.”
Among those legislators pushing back is Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel, who told the ADN that she’s pro-life but that she’s also staunchly pro-privacy. She said she was stunned by Taylor’s decision and questioned where his priorities were because it certainly doesn’t seem they’re with supporting the Alaska Constitution.
“Why is he engaging in other states’ business?” Giessel told the paper. “He’s in that role to be the attorney for Alaska’s citizens. … He’s acting more—it feels to me—like the attorney general for the people of other states or the administrations of other states.”
Why it matters: This is part of a bigger trend.
It’s far from the first instance of Taylor quietly implementing or endorsing far-right policy from his office. In the run-up to the 2022 election, he erased protections for LGBTQ individuals in all realms outside of employment in a move that essentially endorsed discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the realms of housing, finance and public accommodations. Earlier this year, he scared Walgreens out of selling abortion pill mifepristone in Alaska. Meanwhile, his wife has been a key figure in attempting to steer public funds to private and religious schools, an issue he only recused himself from at the Department of Law once public attention started to build.
Taylor’s work reflects a new effort to implement far-right policies in the wake of elections where voters have largely rejected such policies. While the dividend was nominally the driving force behind last year’s effort to call a constitutional convention, it didn’t take much digging to see that far-right issues like abortion and public support of private and religious schools were the key motivator for its key backers. That campaign included the support of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the first time a sitting governor had endorsed what would be open season for the state’s constitution.
While the looming possibility of a constitutional convention kept many, including me, up at night, voters saw otherwise, and the constitutional convention question failed by a wider margin than it had when no major campaign or governor was supporting it.
Still, Dunleavy and Taylor have continued to push their worldview onto Alaskans. At his State of the State address, Dunleavy announced his intentions to make Alaska the “most pro-life state in the nation” (that seems to have only served to vault Jeremy “Divorce is worse than rape” Cubas into a well-paid position and a high-profile exit).
For all the talk of a more moderate second term in office, the Dunleavy administration has instead launched the state into the morass of the Republican culture wars with things like his bad copy of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have effectively banned talk of sex and gender from the classroom.
Even now, the same thing is happening with the plans of the Board of Education—packed with diehard Dunleavy allies—to ban most trans students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Faced with the reality that the issue has no meaningful traction in the Legislature, they’ve turned to other means outside the democratic process to enforce their beliefs on everyone else. The public comment period on the issue closes this afternoon, and they’ll take public testimony at their meeting next week, but it’s clear that minds have already been made up.
But in their haste, the regulations before the Board of Education are light on precisely how these regulations should be enforced and, perhaps unsurprisingly, glaze over the issue of how these regulations requiring students to disclose their personal medical history complies with the Alaska Constitution’s right to privacy.
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Have a nice weekend, y’all.