Murkowski missed – didn’t duck – abortion vote, staffer says

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (File photo)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (File photo)

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In Congress, a bill to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy has failed to advance in the Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has angered both sides of the abortion debate in the past, did not vote on today’s bill.

As her spokeswoman Karina Petersen explains it, Murkowski did not intentionally duck the abortion vote.

“The senator missed the vote this morning because she had prior travel commitments,” Petersen said. “She had reviewed the Senate calendar earlier this year and made travel plans based on the timing of the Jewish holidays and the fact that the Senate historically not been in session around those holidays.”

But this year, the eve of Yom Kippur coincides with the arrival of Pope Francis in Washington, and the Senate’s Republican leadership scheduled a vote on the abortion bill for the same day.

Only 54 senators voted to advance the mid-term abortion ban. That’s six short of the number needed to proceed. It appears Murkowski’s presence would not have put sponsors of the bill any closer.

“Sen. Murkowski supports a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices, however that support is not without limits,” Petersen said, reading from a prepared statement. “She opposes late-term abortion and supports restricting abortion after 20 weeks, so long as there are clear and workable exceptions, such as for victims of rape and incest and in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. While she does not support the bill that the Senate failed to advance today, she could support future legislation that meets this standard.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan did vote for the ban, as did Congressman Don Young when the bill passed the House in May. But Murkowski, who is up for re-election next year, does not fit neatly into either side of the abortion debate. Last month, supporters of abortion rights were furious when she voted to proceed on a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. (Murkowski says she hoped to amend the bill to just defund affiliates if any are found to have broken laws against the sale of fetal parts.) Now, the anti-abortion side is unhappy with her, too.

“We are very disappointed and … she’s clearly confused about this legislation and its popularity among her constituents,” says Mallory Quigley, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List. The anti-abortion group ran web ads over the summer asking Murkowski to support the 20-week ban.

The Alaska Democratic Party, meanwhile, put out a press release after the  vote, saying Murkowski “caved in” to right-wing interests.

So where was Murkowski traveling to or from that caused her to miss the vote?

“I don’t have that information to share. Sorry,” said Petersen, the spokeswoman. “The senator has things listed on her schedule that are listed as private. I know and am privy to the information that is official office travel and official appearances. If she’s is having dinner with her husband I wouldn’t have that information.”

Ditto, Petersen says, for fundraising events. She says Murkowski returns to Washington Wednesday night, in time for the Pope’s address to Congress on Thursday. And, it appears, in time for another procedural vote on defunding Planned Parenthood, this one linked to averting a government shutdown.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz