Gov. Sarah Palin is about as anti-abortion as a politician can be, and crusaders on the issue say they can’t imagine a better candidate. Abortion-rights advocates say just the opposite.
Yet Palin has not pushed that agenda in her nearly two years as governor. She backed a couple of anti-abortion bills that died in the state Legislature during the regular session, but didn’t add them to the agenda during special sessions this summer.
Anti-abortion activists say she’s done plenty simply by standing on the national stage with her new baby, Trig, born in April with Down syndrome.
That "speaks more eloquently than any words or any official actions that she may or may not have taken," said Ed Wassell, president of Alaska Right to Life. "From that perspective, I think she’s unmatched."
Studies show that about 90 percent of women who learn they are carrying a Down syndrome baby choose to have an abortion.
For years, Palin has defined herself as a hard-line social conservative who opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest.
But in 2002, when Palin was Wasilla mayor and running for lieutenant governor, Alaska Right to Life endorsed one of the state’s most active anti-abortion politicians, Loren Leman, who ultimately beat Palin. An upset Palin fired off an e-mail to the group after she was passed over.
"For what it’s worth, I also wish to express my personal disappointment in not receiving your endorsement. It feels a bit like taking a kick in the gut. I am as pro-life as any candidate can be," Palin wrote on July 1, 2002, to the Right to Life board. She said she had understood "the atrocity of abortion" since she was a child.
In the 2006 campaign for governor, Alaska Right to Life endorsed her "as head and shoulders above everybody else," said Karen Lewis, longtime executive director of Alaska Right to Life.
Palin explained her position in a questionnaire that year from the conservative group Eagle Forum Alaska:
"I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor’s determination that the mother’s life would end if the pregnancy continued. I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent’s life."
What if her own daughter was raped and became pregnant? Asked that in a Nov. 2, 2006 debate on Alaska public television, Palin answered, "I would choose life."
Last week, Palin and her husband, Todd, revealed that their daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant and will marry the father, her high-school boyfriend.
It’s legal in Alaska for minors to get an abortion without their parents’ consent, though Palin wants to change that.
Palin has been walled off from news reporters since Aug. 29, when U.S. Sen. John McCain announced her as his running mate. She didn’t respond to several requests for comment made through her spokeswoman in the presidential campaign. Her deputy press secretary in the governor’s office answered questions on abortion legislation.
In 2006, Palin joined the national group Feminists for Life, which opposes abortion except to save the mother’s life, but also works to address problems, such as poverty and violence in relationships, which can contribute to the decision to seek an abortion.
Last fall, Palin spoke at Alaska Right to Life’s "Proudly Pro-Life" dinner and asked for support in reshaping the state judiciary, according to the organization’s newsletter.
Everything Alaska anti-abortion groups ever gained — laws requiring parental consent for abortions; a ban on certain kinds of abortion; an end to public funding for abortions — was later overturned by court decisions, Wassell said.
This year in Juneau, the state House passed two anti-abortion bills similar to overturned laws: one requiring underage girls to first obtain a parent’s consent, and the other banning a rare procedure that some call "partial birth abortion."
"Gov. Palin was ready and willing to sign those bills if they had ever seen the light of day. She made that very, very clear," said Debbie Joslin, president of Eagle Forum Alaska.
But both bills died in the state senate, bottled up in the judiciary committee.
Palin never pushed for the bills go to a vote. That may have been because she was leery of battling the Democrats over abortion because she needed their support for a natural gas pipeline project, said Geran Tarr, director of the Anchorage-based, abortion-rights group Alliance for Reproductive Justice.
"She had to use her political capital to get the gas line project through, and I believe that’s why we haven’t seen her take on any social issues just yet," Tarr said. "She was not going to get any Democrats to vote with her" on the gas line if she pushed anti-abortion legislation, she said.
After the regular session ended in May, the Senate’s leader asked the governor to include the abortion bills in special sessions on the gas line. Palin refused.
"I don’t think she was willing to just put something in there that just created an emotional mix but with no conclusion," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and a prime House sponsor of the bills.
Sen. Fred Dyson, an anti-abortion Republican, said he thought there still could be a special session this year on abortion — Palin earlier told him there would be.
Nothing’s decided yet, Leighow, the governor’s spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, but "discussions are ongoing."
(E-mail Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News at ldemer(at)adn.com.)