ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In the past week, Gov.
Sarah Palin has ramped up her anti-abortion rhetoric, going so far as
to say that Sen. Barack Obama “wouldn’t even stand up for the rights of
infants born alive during an abortion.”
Whether or not her attacks on Obama are valid — which they’re not — is one story.
The extent to which her own claims about her “commitment to life” as governor here are accurate proves just as interesting.
There is no doubt she is an outspoken critic of abortion — against it even in incidents of rape and incest.
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But Palin may have gone too far in her speech at a rally in Johnstown, Pa., this weekend.
“As governor,” Palin said at the beginning of her speech, “what I’ve been able to do is kind of manifest my commitment to life.”
While Palin ran on a pro-life platform for mayor of Wasilla in 1996,
she tapped-danced around abortion when running for governor — generally
bringing it up only at supportive venues.
Alaska tends to have a libertarian streak — part of its frontier
ethos. There is an explicit right to privacy in its constitution.
Abortion was legalized in Alaska before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
So abortion as an issue doesn’t galvanize a majority of voters.
That may explain why, as governor, Palin hasn’t worked to diminish access to abortion.
“In the short time that [Palin] has been the governor, she hasn’t
taken any action,” Clover Simon, the head of Planned Parenthood
Alaska, told me.
Simon noted that two abortion-related bills, one on parental
notification and the other on late-term, or so-called “partial-birth,”
abortion, failed in the state legislature. Palin did not press for a
special session on the bills. Nor, according to Planned Parenthood, did
she lobby for the bills’ passage.
The only policy that might be tied to Palin’s abortion views dates
to her time as mayor in Wasilla, where the morning-after pill may have
been the reason her police department billed rape victims for forensic
News reports show that the state of Alaska stepped in and passed legislation making it illegal to charge a rape victim for evidence collection.
Rep. Eric Croft, a Democrat from Anchorage, who no longer serves in
the legislature, introduced the bill after the issue came up in a local
anti-sexual-assault group’s meetings.
“We kept hearing reports from our in-the-field social workers that
clients were getting charged,” Croft said in a recent interview. “We
had some talk about — should we get a poster child? Not only is that a
shameless use of somebody, it also wasn’t necessary. We decided to just
fight on the pure idea of the thing. It became less important why or
how much — just shouldn’t.”
Croft noted that Wasilla pushed back throughout the six months it
took to get the bill through the legislature. Even after it was signed
into law, Wasilla’s police chief cited the cost of the kits as an
unreasonable burden on taxpayers.
Estimates at the time were that the kits would cost about $5,000 to
$14,000 a year, based on the number of reported sexual assaults in the
area. Between 1995 and 2000, the Wasilla Police Dept. says that between five and 18 sexual assaults were reported each year.
“It never made sense to me that it was something worth the fight,”
Croft said, “unless it was more about the fact that at the very end of
the rape-kit procedure, [the victim is offered] a morning-after pill.
If you really believe the hardcore pro-life position…it’s a
Croft added, “I don’t know if for sure that that was the case.”
Palin’s campaign sent an email recently to her local paper responding to questions about her stand on requiring rape victims to pay for their kits.
“The entire notion of making a victim of a crime pay for anything is
crazy,” Palin wrote. ” I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that
rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.”
Palin may claim she didn’t know about the controversy — but she
appointed the police chief, Charlie Fannon, who was quoted as saying
that Wasilla rape victims are routinely charged for exams.
“I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer,” Fannon told the Frontiersman in 2000.