Abortion votes put Sen. Murkowski in hot seat

Republicans fear senator could lose support if she doesn't move to the right

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Sen. Lisa Murkowski's vacillating record on abortion rights is raising questions among critics on both sides of the issue.

As a state House member two years ago, Murkowski voted against limiting state-funded abortions for poor women. As a U.S. senator, she has voted with abortion opponents more often than not.

"Interesting, isn't it?" said Karen Vosburgh, director of the Alaska Right to Life Committee. "She's flip-floppy."

The reason why seems obvious to Andrew Halcro, a former Republican state representative who supports abortion rights. Murkowski, R-Alaska, must survive a Republican primary election in August, and Alaska Republicans fear that if the senator doesn't move to the right a conservative candidate will jump into the race, draining votes away from her, Halcro said.

That could hand the election to former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat running for the seat.

"I can understand why she has made some of the decisions she has," Halcro told the Anchorage Daily News. "But yeah, I'm disappointed."

Murkowski said she has not wavered on her stance. She said she has never fit neatly into either the abortion rights or the anti-abortion category.

"I've always said that option (abortion) should be available to women but that reasonable restrictions are recognized," she said.

Murkowski said that anyone who took her speech on the state House floor two years ago as a declaration of her allegiance to the abortion rights position misunderstood her.

Her votes in 2003, her first year in Washington, D.C., give both sides of the issue plenty to like and dislike. She voted:

• To ban a procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and also co-sponsored the bill.

• For a nonbinding declaration saying Roe vs. Wade - the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion - should remain.

• Against allowing abortions in U.S. military hospitals overseas.

• To lift the ban on foreign aid to groups that may refer women for abortions.

The National Right to Life Committee gives Murkowski a rating of 71 percent, saying she voted its preferred position in five out of seven abortion votes it tracked in 2003. Planned Parenthood gives her a 40 percent rating for the year.

Yet she attracted a $2,000 campaign contribution from an abortion-rights group called Republicans for Choice PAC.

Planned Parenthood Federal PAC has endorsed Knowles.

Jim Ferrell, a spokesman for the national group, said Murkowski doesn't back abortion rights, despite her vote in support of Roe vs. Wade.

"That's a fig leaf for her, so she can trick women in Alaska into believing that she's actually pro-choice," he said. "She throws an occasional vote to us - not when it really counts."

Ann Stone, founder of the group Republicans for Choice, said she understands Murkowski hasn't consistently voted the way she'd like.

But if Republicans for Choice only supported candidates who voted its way all the time, "you'd have a very small club," she said. "We're a little more lenient than the other pro-choice groups."

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