Murkowski part of bipartisan group in support of abortion access

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Aug. 1 joined a bipartisan coalition to introduce a bill that would protect abortion and contraception access.

The measure faces an uncertain future in a Senate that failed to pass a broader measure enshrining abortion rights in May. It also comes as Murkowski faces reelection this fall, with abortion emerging as a key issue in that campaign.

Despite the bill’s bipartisan co-sponsors — Democrats Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, and Republicans Susan Collins, of Maine, and Murkowski — it is unlikely to clear the 60 votes necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster.

In a statement, the four senators said it would “undo the damage” of the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In that decision, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled that the court may also reconsider its stances on contraception and same-sex marriage.

The bill leans on language from Roe v. Wade and other Supreme Court rulings that protected abortion before the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision on June 24.

It would block state regulations that impose an “undue burden” on women trying to get a pre-viability abortion, according to the written statement from the senators. The act would allow states to make “reasonable restrictions” on post-viability abortion and ensure abortions to protect the life or health of the mother.

In Alaska, abortion access is protected under the state constitution. Changing that would require changing the constitution — a possibility that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has suggested exploring in the state’s next legislative session.

The federal legislation would also preserve the right to contraception access that is currently constitutionally protected by another Supreme Court ruling.

Additionally, it would keep in place conscience protections for health care providers that refuse to provide abortions because of religious beliefs.

“For five decades, reproductive health care decisions were centered with the individual — we cannot go back in time in limiting personal freedoms for women,” Murkowski said in a written statement.

“Every American should have autonomy over their own health care decisions,” Murkowski said. “The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs has made it imperative for Congress to restore women’s reproductive rights.”

Murkowski is the only one of the bill’s sponsors who is running for reelection this year, and she faced a wave of criticism for her votes to confirm two of the justices who later backed the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Murkowski faces challenges from both the right and left. Her leading opponents are conservative Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Pat Chesbro, who both have raised concerns over Murkowski’s position on abortion access.

“Put this on the list of reasons why Lisa Murkowski can’t be trusted. Just a few weeks ago she voted against codifying Roe v. Wade, but now she wants pro-choice voters to think she’s for it,” Tshibaka said in a written statement Aug. 1.

Murkowski voted in May against the House’s abortion bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, because she said it went too far beyond codifying Roe. She has not taken a position on the House’s Right to Contraception Act which passed 228-195 last month.

Murkowski has tried to codify Roe v. Wade before. Alongside Collins, she introduced a bill to protect Roe v. Wade in February. However, the bill has not advanced in the Senate.

Tshibaka has previously said she thinks it should be up to states to determine laws governing abortion access.

Chesbro, who is running for the Senate seat with the backing of the Alaska Democratic Party, said Aug. 1 she would not support the new legislation because it does not protect abortion access after fetal viability — generally considered to be around 24 weeks of gestation.

“I don’t think it really addresses the issues that were present before Roe v. Wade was overturned,” Chesbro said about the new legislation. “I’m not going to call it a political stunt, but I am going to say that I doubt it would pass even in its current form.”

 

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