ANCHORAGE - Democratic candidate for governor Fran Ulmer says abortion will be a distinguishing campaign issue between her and Republican candidate U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski.
"I fear if (Murkowski) were able to team up with the Legislature, a woman's right to choose would be under constant assault," Ulmer said in a speech Wednesday in Soldotna in which she criticized Murkowski's abortion votes in the U.S. Senate.
Murkowski, asked about Ulmer's remarks at a post-election news conference, downplayed the importance of abortion in the campaign.
"It isn't a matter of this election being determined by a single issue, as much as some would like to make it a single issue," he said. "Obviously, the right of a woman to choose is that individual's right."
As governor, Murkowski said he would "uphold whatever the law (is) that pertains to this."
Murkowski declined to say whether he would attempt to change state abortion law or regulations.
"I do not intend at this time to address that matter in any detail. That will be discussed when it comes up, appropriately with the legislative leadership and we will continue to enforce and obey the laws that are set," he said.
One of the Legislature's most dogged abortion foes, Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican, was elected Tuesday as Murkowski's Republican running mate for lieutenant governor.
Ulmer raised the abortion issue at the end of a policy speech to health-care workers.
"My opponent in this race has voted for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision," she said. "He even voted against a law that sought to protect women from violence when going to an abortion clinic."
Murkowski rejected any suggestion that he has voted to limit a woman's right to an abortion, calling it "an incorrect characterization."
"The issue that has been before (us) in the United States Senate in my career was very specific and it was whether to federally fund abortion or not, and I voted against it."
Murkowski has voted repeatedly to ban abortion in military hospitals, and he has voted to exclude abortion from federal employees' insurance plans. He also has voted to ban partial-birth abortions, to place disclosure requirements on the use of fetal tissue from abortions, and, in 1983, to amend the Constitution to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark court decision legalizing abortion. In 1993 he voted against the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
The National Right to Life Committee has repeatedly rated his voting record at 100 percent, while abortion-rights groups usually give him a zero.
With the fundamental question of abortion rights decided by the U.S. Supreme Court almost 30 years ago in the Wade case, debate in Alaska and other states has shifted to issues such as state funding of abortions, mandatory waiting periods, and whether parents must be notified before minors may get an abortion.
The Republican-controlled Alaska Legislature has tried repeatedly to restrict publicly funded abortions for poor women.
This year it passed a bill that would have narrowed a doctor's discretion in performing state-funded abortions to cases of rape, incest or when an abortion is necessary to avoid seriously endangering the woman's health. State-funded abortions also would be allowed in cases of mental illness or if medication poses a health risk to the fetus.
Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed the bill, saying it would constrain a doctor's ability to make good medical decisions and would violate a woman's right to privacy with her doctor. The Legislature has overridden his vetoes of previous abortion bills.
Murkowski wouldn't say Wednesday how he would have acted on the state bill, but he noted that many people criticized the manner in which Senate Bill 364 was drafted.
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