Separate demonstrations were held on the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday with abortion-rights groups celebrating the 30th anniversary of legal abortion and anti-abortion groups mourning it.
Combined, about 100 people weathered bitter cold and Taku winds for an afternoon anti-abortion rally and an evening abortion-rights rally.
Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer called the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 "an important underpinning of the progress of women in America."
"We are celebrating the fact that we live in a country with a Constitution that protects individual freedoms," Ulmer said. "We're here celebrating that we live in a country with a Supreme Court that will protect individual rights even in the face of intimidation from those whose beliefs challenge those rights."
Republican Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, addressing anti-abortion supporters, said the number of women getting abortions in the United States is down and sent a message of hope that Roe v. Wade would be overturned someday.
"Although still far too many, the year 2000, the last year where we have these statistics available, saw the fewest number of abortions performed since 1974. We can thank the efforts of people like you," Leman said. "On the political side we should be thankful for a president that supports life. We can also be thankful for Alaska's new governor, who supports life."
Gov. Frank Murkowski made a brief appearance at the afternoon rally, thanking anti-abortion proponents for working to protect the lives of the unborn.
"I really appreciate you being out here today protecting the lives of our greatest resource - our children," Murkowski said.
Democratic state lawmakers attended the evening rally in support of abortion rights, and Republicans turned out for the noon anti-abortion rally.
Democratic Sens. Georgianna Lincoln, Johnny Ellis, Bettye Davis and Reps. David Guttenberg, Beth Kerttula, Les Gara and Sharon Cissna attended the abortion-rights rally.
At the anti-abortion rally were Sens. Robin Taylor, Lyda Green, Fred Dyson and Reps. Nancy Dahlstrom, Bill Stoltze, Kevin Meyer, Tom Anderson, Ralph Seekins and Bob Lynn.
Lynn, a freshman lawmaker from Anchorage, said he plans this session to form an anti-abortion caucus to advance the anti-abortion agenda. He noted that 77 percent of the candidates endorsed by the anti-abortion organization Alaska Right to Life were elected to office in the November election.
Juneau Democratic Rep. Kerttula said that when she was in high school and college she thought the battle over abortion would be over by now.
"I really thought people would get it, that this is something that is each individual's right ... that it's not about the Legislature and it's not about the courts," Kerttula said.
Kerttula received the Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition's Annual Voice for Choice Award on Tuesday night for defending a woman's right to get an abortion.
Kerttula said bills such as those mandating parental consent and informed consent are an attempt to limit or prevent access to safe and legal abortions.
Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, already has filed legislation this session that would require abortion clinics to provide women with information explaining the medical risks and providing alternatives to abortion.
"It doesn't make sense to me, and it's not as if all of that information is not available, and women know it," Kerttula said, noting the Legislature should not interfere with the relationship between doctor and patient.
Dyson's is not the first bill proposed by the Legislature to attempt to limit access to abortions. Last session a bill introduced out of the Senate Rules Committee would have prevented state-funded "medically necessary" abortions.
Lawmakers argued that women were being granted state-funded abortions although the mother's life was not in danger. The measure was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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