Will abortion join oil taxes as hot topic for next Alaska Legislature?

by Amanda Coyne

So much talk surrounding the upcoming state election has focused on oil taxes and which candidates do or do not support a massive tax cut for the industry funding about 90 percent of Alaska’s state budget. Less discussed are other issues — namely abortion — that could also become hotly debated in the next session of the Alaska Legislature, particularly if the bipartisan coalition that governs state Senate business is broken up.

Gov. Sean Parnell and oil industry backers have prioritized changing the current composition of the state Senate, which consists of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The potential logjam of a 10-10 split led six Republicans to join all 10 Dems in forming a bipartisan majority back in 2008. At the time, incoming Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, announced that in negotiating the majority, senators made an agreement to avoid hot-button social issues like abortion: “Those issues that are extreme probably will not be addressed.”

The other four Republican senators refused to join the coalition, in part because of its moderate stance on abortion. Break up the majority coalition by electing more conservative senators, and Alaskans may also be voting to return abortion and other hot-button issues to the table, a prospect that excites pro-life groups and worries supporters of a woman’s right to choose.

Of note: 59 of 60 seats in the state Legislature are up for grabs Nov. 6. The race is just beginning to heat up — poll numbers aren’t out yet — and it’s impossible to predict how and if the Legislature is going to change much. However, at least two staunchly pro-life candidates — Peter Micciche and Mike Dunleavy — have won their primaries against relatively moderate Republican incumbents, Sens. Tom Wagoner and Linda Menard, both of whom were a part of the bipartisan majority. Neither Micciche nor Dunleavy face challengers in the general and will thus go on to be elected unopposed.

Take those four staunchly pro-life senators who’ve been in the minority and add a few more Republicans to create a truly conservative Senate majority; then put that alongside a House of Representatives that’s governed by a pro-life majority. The potential result? One of the most socially conservative legislatures in recent Alaska political history. And the cherry on top: Parnell, a governor who’s signaled he will sign into law any legislation landing on his desk that restricts abortion rights.

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