Alaskans who value access to affordable and confidential health care should think carefully before casting their vote for governor on Nov. 5. One of the most striking differences between the leading gubernatorial candidates is their attitudes toward public health and reproductive rights.
Sen. Frank Murkowski's voting record has earned abysmal marks from an array of national organizations concerned with public health and women's issues. The following groups report that on votes they consider important, Murkowski voted their preferred position zero percent of the time in the past one to three years: American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Planned Parenthood of America, American Association of University Women, Business and Professional Women and the Human Rights Campaign. (Source: Project Vote Smart, www.vote-smart.org)
Murkowski and his running mate, Sen. Loren Leman, oppose a woman's right to access safe, legal abortion.
Murkowski also opposes efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies through education and access to contraception. He opposes measures to educate teens about preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, believing that "just say no" is sufficient education. He opposes measures to cover contraception under insurance plans that cover other prescription drugs, and fought efforts to improve access to emergency contraception.
But Murkowski also opposes measures to help families once they have children. He voted against restoring Medicaid coverage to severely disabled children who lost Medicaid eligibility under welfare reform.
Murkowski voted against expanding childcare tax credits, against tax incentives to help small businesses provide health insurance, and against a measure to improve affordability, availability and quality of child care. And he voted to make it tougher for an employee to be eligible for unpaid family and medical leave.
Murkowski voted against a Senate measure expressing support for a patients' bill of rights for participants in group health plans, and he voted against letting patients sue for damages if they are harmed by their plan's denial of treatment.
In contrast, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer has advocated for real health care improvements for women and families throughout her career. The Knowles-Ulmer administration created the Denali Kidcare program, which provides critical prenatal care for over 700 pregnant women and medical care for over 11,000 children. Leman, Murkowski's running mate, tried to kill the program.
Ulmer fought to provide Medicaid funds for Alaska women with breast and cervical cancer who lack other insurance. Leman led a group of state senators who, after failing to block the measure, added a requirement that the state assess whether the number of sexual partners a woman had affects the rate of cervical cancer.
As a representative, Ulmer sponsored legislation protecting victims of domestic violence and legislation requiring insurance companies to cover mammograms. As lieutenant governor, Ulmer consistently opposed and urged vetoes of legislation that infringed on the privacy of the patient-physician relationship.
If you want to know what a politician really stands for, look past the campaign rhetoric and examine the voting records - and remember to vote on Nov. 5.
Rebecca Braun lives in Juneau and serves on the board of the Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition with co-signers Debra Schorr, Marina Lindsey, Shelley Theno and LaRae Jones.