Alaska political fight brewing as Roe v. Wade looks to be overturned soon
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A political fight is brewing in Alaska after a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision was leaked on Monday that suggests Roe v. Wade could soon be overturned.
The leaked document, signed by Justice Samuel Alito, called the landmark abortion rights decision “egregiously wrong from the start.” When the news of the leaked document reached Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, she called it absolutely reprehensible and condemned it.
“I really find it shocking that this would happen and it is unprecedented,” Murkowski said.
She also told reporters on Capitol Hill that her “confidence in the court has been rocked.”
Overturning the landmark 1973 decision would see abortion bans or restrictions in over 20 states. But there would be no immediate impact in Alaska for abortion access. The Alaska Legislature legalized abortion in 1970, which made Alaska one of a handful of states to do that before Roe v. Wade was decided. The Alaska Supreme Court also ruled in 1997 that the state constitution’s privacy clause protects a woman’s right to choose, separate from what happens at a federal level.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who identifies as pro-life, said he believes abortion is an issue that should be decided at a state level.
“I think turning over Roe v. Wade, if that happens, will cause a renewed conversation in Alaska as to where Alaska wants to go on this particular issue,” he said on Tuesday.
For pro-life supporters, the question is how to ban abortions in Alaska. Jim Minnery, president of Alaska Family Council, said the primary challenge is an overzealous state judiciary “that manufactured a right to abortion.”
Minnery said the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned is a sign that people’s way of thinking is changing.
“There’s not any misunderstanding about the reality that if you’re pregnant it’s a baby, and that we stand for every human’s right to their first breath,” he said.
Minnery pointed to abortion laws the Alaska Supreme Court has struck down in the past. He is urging Alaskans to vote for a constitutional convention in November as the best way to protect “pre-born Alaskans.” Any changes made to the state’s constitution would then need to be approved by voters.
Dunleavy, who is running for reelection, has been publicly neutral on whether he would support holding a constitutional convention. He said on Tuesday that there are “a lot of issues to look at” on that question, like the Permanent Fund dividend, and spending limits.
“We’re going to see how things go with the legislative session, and then I’ll have something to say after that,” he added.
Bob Bird, head of the Alaska Independence Party, has called for a constitutional convention for decades and he is pro-life. But he argues that a constitutional change to explicitly abolish abortion in Alaska is unnecessary because state courts have issued unconstitutional decisions, which he says should simply not be enforced.
Bird argues that a statutory change could achieve the same pro-life goals. Wasilla Republican Rep. Chris Kurka, who was a former head of Alaska Right to Life and is also running to be Alaska’s next governor, agrees with Bird.
“This is a welcome decision for the pro-life movement, and I think that you haven’t begun to see us fight,” he said.
Kurka has legislation to protect “pre-born Alaskans” but it has received no hearings and little interest from a largely pro-choice bipartisan House majority coalition. The Alaska Legislature could also pass a constitutional amendment banning or restricting abortion, but that is said to be highly unlikely this session.
Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, is strongly pro-life and said she doesn’t want to see Alaska become an “abortion tourism” destination if Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortions are still available in Alaska.
“I don’t think that would gel well with Alaskans,” she said.
She introduced a constitutional amendment last January, but that has yet to reach the Senate floor just over two weeks from the end of the session. Two-thirds of the Legislature would need to support any proposed amendment and it would then need to be approved by a majority of Alaska voters.
Alaskans will head to the polls this year and abortion could be a central issue if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade before then.
Former Democratic state legislator Les Gara, who is running to be Alaska’s next governor, is running a strongly pro-choice campaign. He says there is “a false illusion” that the state’s constitution protects abortion access, instead of privacy more generally.
Gara argues that it is critical who Alaska’s next governor will be because they will appoint the state’s next Supreme Court justices.
Of the state’s five justices, Chief Justice Daniel Winfree is set to leave the bench later this year as he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Justice Peter Maassen turned 67 in January.
“As governor, I would make sure that I did my best to appoint people who would respect our precedent and uphold a woman’s right to choose,” Gara said. “I would veto any legislation that was anti-choice, that took away a woman’s right to choose. And I would make sure that women have the right to available, safe contraception.”
Former Gov. Bill Walker, who is running for reelection as an independent, issued a statement on social media on Monday in support of a woman’s right to choose and the state constitution’s right to privacy.
Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office did not comment directly on the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, but rather on the document leak itself.
“Having served as a judicial law clerk for individual judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and the D.C. Circuits, and the Alaska Supreme Court, Senator Sullivan believes that this egregious leak of the draft document is a stunning betrayal that risks undermining the integrity and independence of the Court,” his office said in a statement. “He believes this lawless action should be investigated and punished to the fullest extent possible.”
In Anchorage, a rally was organized at the intersection of Minnesota Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard. Dozens of people held banners and signs advocating for the defense of legal abortion at the event organized by Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates-Alaska. Rallies were also scheduled in Fairbanks and Juneau.
Nora Morse, the political and field director at Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said the organization was there to “stand with Alaskans who know how essential abortion rights and access are.”
“And to let our elected officials know that we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure that abortion stays safe and legal here in Alaska,” Morse said.
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