With less than two weeks to go before Alaska’s Aug. 16 election, the three candidates seeking to temporarily replace Congressman Don Young in Alaska’s U.S. House seat have made clear their positions on abortion.
In campaign events, conversations with reporters and at public forums, Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich say they support the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows states to ban the practice and that they oppose congressional efforts to guarantee abortion rights.
Both also say they would vote to end federal Medicaid funding that pays for abortion services in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy.
Democratic candidate Mary Peltola, who is criss-crossing Southeast Alaska this weekend, says Congress should codify abortion rights in law and expand access to affordable birth control.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right, abortion has become a major election issue across the country, including here in Alaska, where polling has repeatedly found majority support for abortion rights, despite Alaska’s reputation as a Republican state.
Peltola, Palin and Begich are on the Aug. 16 ballot twice — in a special general election that will decide who fills Alaska’s U.S. House seat from September through January, and they are among 22 candidates in a primary election that is the first step in deciding who fills the House seat for a full two-year term starting in January.
The special general election is the first that will be conducted under Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system. Voters will be asked to pick a first choice, second choice, and a third choice among the three candidates. There’s also a fourth option for a write-in candidate.
If one candidate gets more than 50% of the first-choice votes, they win.
If no one reaches that level, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. The votes of anyone who voted for that candidate first will instead go to their second choices. The winner will be whoever has the most votes at the end.
Voters do not have to rank their candidates and can vote for just one.
In a June candidate forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Peltola said, “I am in strong support of pro-choice and Roe v. Wade.”
“Reproductive rights are as personal of an issue as you can possibly get,” she said. “This is one area I do not believe the federal government — or for that matter the state government — has say-so: in your personal body.”
Peltola and Palin reiterated their positions in questionnaires submitted to the Alaska Beacon in late July.
Begich did not answer a questionnaire, but in a Wednesday appearance on a radio show hosted by Alaskan Independence Party chairman Bob Bird, Begich said he no longer supports the current version of the federal Hyde Amendment, which allows federal funding for Medicaid to pay for abortion services in cases of rape, incest, or if a woman’s life is endangered by pregnancy.
More than one in three Alaskans receive health care through Medicaid.
In Alaska, the state government pays for other abortions that providers have determined are medically necessary. Rulings from the Alaska Supreme Court have guaranteed those payments and abortion rights in general.
Begich’s campaign manager, Truman Reed, said Begich supports allowing abortions in those cases but opposes federal funding for them.
“Nick’s position has been consistent from the start,” Reed said. “He is pro-life with allowance for the life of the mother, incest and rape. He steadfastly opposes the use of federal funds for abortion services.”
Palin has said she opposes federal funding for abortion services but has not explicitly stated whether she supports laws allowing abortions for life-endangerment reasons, rape or incest.
Her campaign website states, “There is never an acceptable excuse for deliberately taking a human life, and we must not allow our society to become complicit in such crimes.”
Palin’s youngest child, Trig, was born with Down syndrome and diagnosed before his birth.
“I have a son with special needs. I was given that option, of course, to end his life before it really began. I was scared to death. It was the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced,” Palin said in June at the Anchorage chamber forum.
Speaking to that audience, she said that what seems like a challenge can be an opportunity.
“I know there’s purpose in his life. I know there’s a reason he was born,” she said.
The ranked-choice election is on one side of the ballot; on the other is the primary election featuring the 22 candidates for the full U.S. House term.
Voters will be asked to pick one candidate, and the four candidates who receive the most votes will advance to a ranked-choice vote Nov. 8.
Republican Tara Sweeney missed the cutoff for the special election but is considered likely to be among the four candidates for the regular primary.
Answering the Beacon’s questionnaire, she said she supports a woman’s right to choose and “would support a straight codification of Roe v. Wade. I do not believe that the federal government should have a role in a woman’s healthcare decisions. That decision is between a woman and her medical provider.”
She went on to say that she does not support using federal funding for abortions, similar to Palin and Begich.
Libertarian candidate Chris Bye, also running in the primary, said he believes the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v Wade is “good for governance. It places the decision on states, and therefore the voters, where it should have been all along.”
He did not answer a question asking whether he would vote in favor of a bill that codifies abortion rights in law but said that contraception and other medicines should be available for all people without a doctor’s prescription.
James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.