An Alaska state congressman is under fire after he argued that cases of fatal child abuse are a financial "benefit to society."
On Feb. 20, child abuse and neglect experts testified in front of the Alaska House Judiciary Committee, detailing how adverse childhood experiences impact the state.
During the hearing, Republican Rep. David Eastman asked Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, a local organization working to prevent child abuse and neglect, about the potential financial "benefits" of fatal child abuse.
"How would you respond to the argument that I have heard on occasion where, in the case where child abuse is fatal, obviously it's not good for the child but it's actually a benefit to society because there aren't needs for government services and whatnot over the whole course of the child's life?" Eastman asked.
The legislator's comments came after members of the committee were presented with documents that showed society pays an estimated $1.5 million every time a child is abused, as reported by the Anchorage Daily News.
Storrs immediately asked Eastman to clarify his comment.
"Can you say that again? Did you say: 'A benefit to society?'" Storrs asked.
"Talking dollars. Now, you've got a $1.5 million price tag here for victims of child abuse," Eastman explained. "It gets argued periodically that it's actually a cost savings because that child is not going to need any of those government services that they might otherwise be entitled to receive and need based on growing up in this type of environment."
Video of the exchange went viral, sparking intense criticism nationwide. Eastman's comments were condemned by his colleagues, some of whom called his comments "atrocious," "indefensible" and said Eastman brought "great shame on this House," the Anchorage Daily News reported.
On Feb. 23, the Alaska House of Representatives voted 35-1 to censure Eastman. Eastman was the sole "no" vote.
During the censure hearing, Eastman defended his comments, saying they were “intended to make a point about the economic arguments for abortion,” adding that it was “outrageous” to suggest he “supports the deaths of children.”
What we should be doing is making sure all survivors know that healing is possible and that there is hope for them.
Mike McBride, a child abuse survivor
TODAY.com reached out to Eastman for comment, who responded via email, writing that "while it was good to hear the Alaska Children’s Trust advocating against child abuse, a child’s value comes not from future economic productivity, but from the fact that every child is made in the image of God.”
"I think no matter who is saying it, that is a terrible message," Mike McBride, 54, a child abuse survivor living in Louisiana, tells TODAY.com. "For someone who is in that position to say it is reckless and dangerous. Who knows how many survivors will take this 'I’d be better off dead' message to heart?"
McBride says that child abuse survivors "already struggle so much with the feeling like our lives have been ruined, that we are 'damaged' goods."
"I’ve been an advocate for considering the message we send to survivors, even from within our own community, when we talk about abuse survivors being 'given a life sentence' or having lifetime harms," he continues. "I fear it tells too many survivors that there is no hope for them to ever heal and live any kind of life worth living. Those comments echo all of that, sending a message that survivors are living a life of no hope and not worth the effort of being alive.
"What we should be doing is making sure all survivors know that healing is possible and that there is hope for them," McBride adds.
Eastman is no stranger to controversy. In 2017, shortly after the start of his first term, Eastman was censured by the state House for saying that some Alaska residents get pregnant “so that they can get a free trip to the city” to get an abortion, as reported by the Associated Press.
In 2022, state legislative hearings were held into Eastman's alleged ties to the far-right group the Oath Keepers, after a constituent argued his alleged membership made him unfit to hold office, the Anchorage Daily News reported. No action against Eastman was ultimately taken.