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Alaska legislative candidates clarify abortion views

Amanda Coyne,Ben Anderson

Six-term Missouri Congressman and current Senate candidate Todd Akin has been under heavy fire in the wake of his recent statement on how a woman’s body can prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape,” because it “has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Akin was replying to a question about whether abortion should be legal in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape. On Tuesday, he announced again that he would stay in the race, despite calls for him to drop out.

In a state as heavily Republican as Alaska, abortion has long been a hot topic, even in recent years. In 2010, voters approved a ballot proposition that would require parental notification in the case of a girl 17 or younger seeking an abortion. And pro-life groups have been pushing for changes in Alaska’s Medicaid provision that would amend language about what constitutes a medically necessary abortion. Pro-life legislators seek to make abortions less accessible.

When Alaskans vote in Tuesday’s primary election, some will vote on candidates’ fiscal policies, others on their resource management positions or their environmental stances. Others, from all ends of the political spectrum, will vote on value issues like abortion and gay marriage.   

To help those voters decide, Alaska Family Action has released its 2012 Values Voter Guide, which surveys candidates in contested primaries on 12 value-related topics. Alaska Family Action is “the legislative, lobbying arm” of the Alaska Family Council, a conservative public-policy organization based in Anchorage.

Five of those questions relate to abortion, including whether a candidate supports government funding for Planned Parenthood, and determining what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion.

But perhaps the most hot-button question is the first, which asks for a candidate’s opinion on what the legal status of abortion should be. Thirty candidates didn’t respond to the survey. Of the 27 candidates who did:

• Ten indicated that they felt “abortion should be illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

• Seven said that “abortion should be illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.”

• Eight candidates who checked the "other" reply elaborated on their position. Several candidates noted that as state legislators, they would not be in a position to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

• Only Republican candidate Jon Faulkner, running for a House seat on the Kenai Peninsula, replied that “abortion should be legal for any reason, but not after the first three months of pregnancy,” according to the survey summary.

• Five candidates took the hard-line stance that “abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.”

We called all five of those candidates to better understand their views. Of those who that have returned our phone calls so far, one candidate backed away from that position, two modulated their responses somewhat, and another candidate’s answer seemed rather confusing. Below are the responses.

Dunleavy vs. Menard

Mike Dunleavy is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Linda Menard in the Matanuska Valley. He checked the box in the survey that said abortion “should be illegal in all circumstances.” He later qualified that to say that it should be legal only in cases of ectopic pregnancies -- where pregnancies occur in fallopian tubes. According to studies, about 20 out of every 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic.

For her part, Menard checked the box that said that abortion “should be illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.”

Eastman vs. Seekins vs. Bishop

David Eastman is running for Senate against Ralph Seekins and Click Bishop in the newly created district that runs from the Interior to Valdez and touches Palmer. In Eastman’s survey response, he said that abortion should be illegal in all cases. In an interview, however, he said that his actual views are a little more “nuanced” than that. He said he’d stick to what he wrote if asked by one of the members of the Alaska Family Council, because their views are also more “nuanced,” but for a general audience, it would be fair to say that “if you’re attempting to save the life of the mother, it shouldn’t be illegal.”

In that same race, Click Bishop said that abortion should be “illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother.” Like Eastman, Ralph Seekins wrote that it should be illegal in all circumstances. Seekins hasn’t yet returned a call about his answer.

Skipper vs. Reinbold vs. Wood

Kim Skipper, who is running for the House seat in Eagle River against Lora Reinbold and Larry Wood, seemed to give a contradictory answer. She said that she’s sticking to her answer that abortion should be illegal in all cases. However, a “doctor should do all he can and work to do all he can, to protect the life of the mother and the baby.” She declined to say if that would include an abortion, and if that should then be illegal.  

Reinbold thinks that abortion should be illegal except when the health of the mother is at stake, or in cases of incest and rape. Wood said that abortion should be illegal except when medically necessary to save the life of the mother.

Bell vs. Vazquez

Republican Bob Bell, who will go up against Liz Vazquez in the Senate race encompassing West Anchorage, said that he supports outlawing abortion in all cases. In a phone interview, he stuck to that response -- except in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. Vazquez said that abortion should be illegal except when the health of the mother is at stake, or in cases of incest and rape.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com or Amanda Coyne at Amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com