Murkowski’s Planned Parenthood Vote Has Left Seething, Right Unmoved

Sen. Lisa Murkowski Photo: KTOO - Juneau.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski Photo: KTOO – Juneau.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate considered legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Both Alaska senators voted to advance the bill, but it failed on a procedural motion, so the Senate has gone on to other issues.  Meanwhile, though, reaction to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s ‘yes’ vote, in favor of moving the anti-Planned Parenthood bill, is ricocheting around Alaska and social media. Alaskans who support abortion rights feel burned while conservatives aren’t giving Murkowski much credit.

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Lisa Jamieson is a supporter of Planned Parenthood. She feels strongly enough about the issue that she wrote Murkowski’s office and asked her not to vote to defund the organization. Jamieson says she used to think of Murkowski as overtly pro-choice, and to say she feels disappointed now is an understatement.

“It’s really very upsetting to me. I feel like – I don’t know how to say it. I feel like she sold her soul,” said Jamieson, a licensed clinical social worker. “I just don’t think she’s being true to the values that she’s always consistently espoused over the years.”

The Senate vote this week was just procedural, and Murkowski says she believes Planned Parenthood does important work, but she says she was appalled by secret video tapes showing officials in the organization talking about harvesting fetal tissue for research. Murkowski says she voted to take up the defunding bill because she wanted to amend it to call for an investigation.

“Let’s make clear for the record what it it is that’s actually happening here,” Murkowski said, after the vote yesterday. “Because if there has been nothing unlawful then do we really want to jeopardize the access to care that some 21,000 people in Alaska have access to? No, I don’t want to.”

Murkowski  says if a Planned Parenthood affiliate is found to have broken the law, she wants to see federal funding to that branch cut off.

You could call her solution a middle road. But abortion rights supporters are taking to Facebook and Twitter to say Murkowski is running to the right, that she’s spinning, that she lacks the courage of her convictions. Rocky Plotnick, a yoga teacher and health educator in Anchorage, says Murkowski’s vote speaks volumes.

“I always considered her to be a moderate Republican and she tended to be supportive of women and pro-choice issues,” she said, “and I think that it’s a huge disappointment.”

Plotnick, who chairs a committee of the Alaska Democratic Party, says Murkowski’s explanation and reasons don’t sway her.

“Because I know that she’s looking for a re-election bid next year and I know she wants to make more conservative voters in Alaska happy,” Plotnick said.

Murkowski has voted for abortion rights, in the U.S. Senate, and before that in the Alaska Legislature. But what’s consistent about her voting history on abortion is that she has repeatedly disappointed both sides. Her annual scorecard with abortion rights groups has swung wildly over the years, from 80 percent to zero and back up again. On the anti-abortion side, National Right to Life’s website says since 2003, Murkowski has voted with them more often than not.

Republican Judy Eledge helped organize an anti-Planned Parenthood rally in Anchorage after the videos emerged. She says she wishes Murkowski’s support for the defunding bill was as strong as Sen. Dan Sullivan’s. He’s a co-sponsor. Eledge says she respects Murkowski’s vote on the procedural motion.

“But I also know she’s very pro-choice,” Eledge said.

Eledge says it’s too early to say whether she’d support Murkowski’s re-election, but she says the senator’s vote to advance the bill won’t affect her decision.

“She and I differ greatly on social issues. So therefore, I guess it would depend on who (the election) was against,” she said.

Before the Senate vote, Alaska Family Action President Jim Minnery urged his supporters to contact Murkowski and tell her to vote yes. He sent one email with the subject line “URGENT – Please Contact Murkowski NOW- Vote Happening Within An Hour!”

Minnery’s not giving kudos to Murkowski now because he says the vote was just procedural, in essence a vote to have vote on the bill.

“And that’s what Lisa Murkowski did,” Minnery said. “And there’s not really much to applaud, to be honest, because that’s why they go to the U.S. Senate is to vote.”

The federal government pays Planned Parenthood about $500 million a year for non-abortion services. For now, the effort to defund the organization is off the Senate agenda, but it’s likely to return in the fall in a fight over government spending bills.