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Alaska US Senate race is a battleground for women’s health

OPINION: Dan Sullivan’s positions on women's health issues are dangerous and out of touch with Alaska women and families. Loren Holmes illustration

Look no further than the latest poll results to know why Republican candidate Dan Sullivan, who won his party’s nomination this week, is hiding from his extreme record and dangerous positions on women’s health. Among women voters, he’s trailing Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Begich by 14 points, according to Public Policy Polling.

One major reason: Sullivan’s positions are dangerous and out of touch with Alaska women and families.

Sullivan, who hails from Ohio, believes that the government should control what women can and cannot do with their bodies. He has the endorsement of leading anti-women’s health organizations, including Alaska Family Action, which said in an email to supporters that there “is not much difference” between his positions and his Republican primary challengers Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. That’s because he wants to ban nearly all abortions. He even approved an effort to put a so-called “personhood” initiative on the Alaska ballot that would ban abortion, and could even interfere with personal, private medical decisions relating to birth control, access to fertility treatment, and management of miscarriage. It would have placed the government in charge of a woman’s health care decisions.

Indeed, “personhood” is government gone too far, and the defeat of “personhood” state constitutional amendments all across the country -- from Colorado and Ohio to Mississippi and Oklahoma -- sends a clear message: health care decisions should be left to a woman, her family, her doctor, and her faith -- not politicians. It’s no wonder Sullivan has consistently dodged questions about his support for conservative leader Rand Paul’s similar legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate. Bottom line -- the intent of these bills is exactly the same: to make abortion less accessible and available for the women who need it.

Sullivan is also opposed to increased access to birth control -- the very thing that can prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place. He called the deeply unpopular Supreme Court ruling that gives bosses at corporations like Hobby Lobby the right to deny their employees access to birth control “great.” This benefit is already available to 106,000 women in Alaska, who are eligible for birth control without a copay. It also saved women across America $483 million in the first year alone.

And it’s not just about abortion and birth control. He has said that he supports legislation to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood health centers, blocking affordable preventive health care for the women and families that need it most. He has refused throughout the entire primary campaign to say whether he supported the Violence Against Women Act, a common-sense policy designed to protect women and their families from domestic abuse.

Here’s the clincher: If Sullivan wins, his victory just might hand control of the Senate to a majority intent on imposing extreme and dangerous beliefs on women and their families in Alaska, and across the nation.

But our votes can keep a champion of women’s health in the Senate. Sen. Begich trusts women to make our own health care decisions.

He has been 100 percent clear where he stands on issues that matter: As a lifelong Alaskan he’s consistently shown that he believes hardworking women and families should get fair pay from their employers; that women should be protected from domestic abuse; that he will work to increase access to affordable birth control and fight to ensure that women have access to safe and legal abortion when they need it.

We’re working overtime to engage and mobilize voters around women’s health this fall because there is too much at stake for women’s health and rights to sit on the sidelines.

We’re opening offices across the state, and our energetic supporters will be knocking on thousands of doors and making thousands of phone calls to talk to as many voters as possible between now and Election Day.

Women will pay close attention to where the candidates stand, and will turn out in force this fall to vote for the candidate who best reflects their values. Sullivan may think that putting bosses and politicians between women and their doctors isn’t a big deal, but Sen. Begich knows better, and so do women across Alaska.

Jessica Cler is Alaska public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. Dawn Laguens is executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.