Gov. Sarah Palin is about as anti-abortion as a politician can be, and crusaders on the issue say they can't imagine a better candidate. Abortion-rights advocates say just the opposite.
Yet she has not pushed that agenda in her nearly two years as governor. She backed a couple of anti-abortion bills that died in the state Legislature during the regular session, but didn't add them to the agenda during special sessions this summer.
Anti-abortion activists say she's done plenty simply by standing on the national stage with her new baby, Trig, born in April with Down syndrome.
That "speaks more eloquently than any words or any official actions that she may or may not have taken," said Ed Wassell, president of Alaska Right to Life. "From that perspective, I think she's unmatched."
Studies show that about 90 percent of women who learn they are carrying a Down syndrome baby choose to have an abortion.
"COULDN'T TALK ABOUT IT"
Palin, 44, found out when she was 13 weeks pregnant, according to a story published Friday in People magazine.
She hid her pregnancy from the public until she was about seven months along and didn't reveal the diagnosis until three days after Trig was born. She didn't tell her other children the new baby would be different, either, according to the magazine.
"Not knowing in my own heart if I was going to be ready to embrace a child with special needs," she said in the interview with People, "I couldn't talk about it."
After Trig was born, Palin sent relatives and close friends a letter she wrote in the voice of God.
"I let Trig's mom and dad find out before he was born that this little boy will truly be a gift," Palin wrote, signing it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."
Palin has been walled off from news reporters since Aug. 29, when U.S. Sen. John McCain announced her as his running mate. She didn't respond to several requests for comment made through her spokeswoman in the presidential campaign. Her deputy press secretary in the governor's office answered questions on abortion legislation.
JUST ONE EXCEPTION
For years, Palin has defined herself as a hard-line social conservative who opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest.
In 2002, Palin was Wasilla mayor and running for lieutenant governor. But Alaska Right to Life endorsed one of the state's most active anti-abortion politicians, Loren Leman, who ultimately beat Palin. An upset Palin fired off an e-mail to the group after she was passed over.
"For what it's worth, I also wish to express my personal disappointment in not receiving your endorsement. It feels a bit like taking a kick in the gut. I am as pro-life as any candidate can be," Palin wrote on July 1, 2002, to the Right to Life board. She said she had understood "the atrocity of abortion" since she was a child.
In the 2006 campaign for governor, Alaska Right to Life endorsed her "as head and shoulders above everybody else," said Karen Lewis, longtime executive director of Alaska Right to Life.
Palin explained her position in a questionnaire that year from the conservative group Eagle Forum Alaska:
"I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor's determination that the mother's life would end if the pregnancy continued. I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent's life."
What if her own daughter was raped and became pregnant? Palin was asked that in a Nov. 2, 2006, debate that aired statewide on public television. "I would chose life," Palin answered.
Last week, Palin and her husband, Todd, revealed that their 17-year-old daughter Bristol is pregnant and will marry the father, her high school boyfriend.
"We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support," the Palins said in a written statement.
It's legal in Alaska for minors to get an abortion without their parents' consent, though Palin wants to change that.
"So Bristol could have gone off and had an abortion and Todd and Sarah wouldn't have known anything about it," said Lewis of Alaska Right to Life. "My hat is off to her. I know it is tough."
In 2006, Palin joined the national group Feminists for Life, which opposes abortion except to save the mother's life, but also works to address problems, such as poverty and violence in relationships, which can contribute to the decision to seek an abortion.
"What has really resonated with people, her private life matches her public speech," Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, said last week.
Last fall, Palin spoke at Alaska Right to Life's "Proudly Pro-Life" dinner at the Hotel Captain Cook and asked for support in reshaping the judiciary, according to the organization's newsletter. Less than two years into her term, she has appointed one justice to the five-member Alaska Supreme Court and will get to fill a new vacancy early next year, unless she ends up in Washington, D.C.
Sharon Leighow, deputy press secretary for the governor, said Palin's interviews with people being considered for judicial spots are private. "However, the governor generally avoids questions about specific legal issues that may come before the candidate," Leighow wrote in an e-mail last week.
Everything Alaska anti-abortion groups ever gained -- laws requiring parental consent for abortions; a ban on certain kinds of abortion; an end to public funding for abortions -- was later overturned by court decisions, Wassell said.
But they'll keep trying.
"There's a lot of frustration in our movement," Wassell said.
FAILED ABORTION BILLS
This year in Juneau, the state House passed two anti-abortion bills similar to overturned laws: one requiring underage girls to first obtain a parent's consent, and the other banning a rare procedure that some call "partial birth abortion." Critics of the effort said the latter was an attempt at a backdoor ban on all abortion, though legislators who supported it denied that.
"Gov. Palin was ready and willing to sign those bills if they had ever seen the light of day. She made that very, very clear," said Debbie Joslin, president of Eagle Forum Alaska.
Both bills died in the Senate, bottled up in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Hollis French, a lawyer and Democrat from Anchorage.
"I felt the bills were unconstitutional," French said.
Palin never pushed him to let the bills go to a vote, he said.
But Senate President Lyda Green, Palin's political rival, did.
"She was twisting my arm on practically a daily basis to get them out of my committee," French said.
The Senate is run by a bipartisan coalition headed by Green.
Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is anti-abortion and not part of the coalition. He said he tried to force a vote on the bills through a floor maneuver called "rolling the chair." It didn't work.
Palin may not have wanted to battle the Democrats over abortion because she needed their support for a natural gas pipeline project, said Geran Tarr, director of the Anchorage-based, abortion-rights group Alliance for Reproductive Justice.
"She had to use her political capital to get the gas line project through, and I believe that's why we haven't seen her take on any social issues just yet," Tarr said. "She was not going to get any Democrats to vote with her" on the gas line if she pushed anti-abortion legislation, she said.
After the regular session ended in May, Green asked the governor to include the abortion bills in special sessions on the gas line. Palin refused.
"I don't think she was willing to just put something in there that just created an emotional mix but with no conclusion," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and a prime House sponsor of the bills.
Dyson said he thought there still could be a special session this year on abortion -- Palin earlier told him there would be.
Nothing's decided yet, but "discussions are on-going," Leighow, the governor's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.
Advocates for abortion rights say they are worried what might happen.
"We know that Gov. Palin has identified herself as anti-choice, and she is as anti-choice a candidate as one can be," said Brittany Goodnight, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Alaska.
Still, Palin didn't bring up abortion or other conservative causes in her raved-about speech Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.
She also canceled a Tuesday appearance at Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly's anti-abortion event. She needed to concentrate on the big convention speech, her spokeswoman for the campaign, Maria Comella, said.
Joslin picked up an award for Palin, a porcelain baby angel and plaque.
Schlafly wasn't offended. As far as she's concerned, Palin is just what the anti-abortion movement needs.
"I haven't seen anything like it since Reagan," Schlafly said.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
Palin and sex education
Gov. Sarah Palin hasn't done anything to promote the type of sex education backed by social conservatives, who want kids taught a message of no sex until marriage.
Her position on sex education is a little murky.
In the 2006 governor campaign, Palin was asked about sex education by the conservative group Eagle Forum Alaska in a written questionnaire.
Here's the exchange:
Eagle Forum: Will you support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?
Palin: "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."
But asked about Palin's views on sex education last week, Maria Comella, her spokeswoman in the vice-presidential campaign, said Palin "supports sex education in terms of teaching of contraceptives and everything." She doesn't support "abstinence-only" education, Comella said.
At any rate, the state has no standards or even a suggested curriculum for sex education, and Palin hasn't tried to change that, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the state Department of Education. Sex ed is up to local school districts. Anchorage teachers stress abstinence, but also talk about birth control.
Also during the 2006 campaign, Palin said she was pro-contraception but didn't specify what kind or what she thought about teens using birth control.