Former state Senate Mike Dunleavy, left, Gov. Bill Walker, center, and former U.S. Senator Mark Begich debate during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Centennial Hall on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Former state Senate Mike Dunleavy, left, Gov. Bill Walker, center, and former U.S. Senator Mark Begich debate during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Centennial Hall on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: We need a governor who will stick to his word on reproductive rights

Whom we choose for governor is more important than ever.

Because of the Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and his hostility of Roe v. Wade, whom we choose for governor is more important than ever. I’m voting for Mark Begich and not Gov. Bill Walker. This is why.

In the fall of 2014, Walker reached out to a group of pro-choice leaders to gain our support for the Walker/Mallott ticket. I was one of those women. He said he would not initiate legislation or regulation that would change a woman’s right to an abortion. Let me tell you how he then worked against reproductive rights.

Nine women asked him if he would veto legislation that would restrict reproductive rights. Walker hedged, said he couldn’t commit; he’d have to see the bill first. I wanted to believe he would allow reproductive rights to remain as is during his term.

In 2015, Planned Parenthood won a lawsuit to stop a law that would narrowly define a “medically necessary” abortion. It would determine whether low-income women could have Medicaid coverage for the procedure. In his opinion, Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock recognized the statute and rule for what they were: “a high risk high hazard bar” for Medicaid-funded abortions. The Medicaid funding restrictions failed to care for women who needed an abortion because of the physical risks of pregnancy, or if a fetus has a serious or fatal anomaly, or because of the mental and emotional impact of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

We women who met with the governor urged him not to appeal. Walker appealed anyway. Three years later we still do not have a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court.

This is telling. We need more than lip service when it comes to reproductive rights. Alaska needs a leader. Another term with Walker will be more of the same.

Alaska has the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the country. Sex education has proven to help people make healthy decisions about their bodies and their lives. Unfortunately, it is not required here in Alaska. It varies from school to school depending upon the school board, principal and teacher.

Dunleavy wrote a bill to restrict the teaching of sex education in our schools. In 2016 it passed the Republican-led legislature. The majority of the testimony was against the bill. Walker could have been pushing for more access to information for Alaska youth. He could have vetoed the bill. Instead it became law. Sex education is now the most restrictive subject in the state. This is thanks to Walker, who failed to lead and take action.

In 2018, the Alaska House Majority passed a bill that would require insurers to cover 12 months of birth control at a time. It would dramatically expand access to contraception. The Republican Senate didn’t move the bill forward. Walker did not take a lead on this bill. He didn’t urge the Senate to pass it. He ignored it.

Walker said Alaska’s constitution protects a woman’s right to choose even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Don’t fall for that. Anti-choice lawmakers will only gain more leverage to chip away at abortion access and do real damage to the progress we’ve made.

Walker’s attitude is he expanded Medicaid for women and that’s enough. He fails to see that reproductive rights are economic issues for women. If women can’t control their bodies then they can’t control their own lives or the impact on their families.

I want a governor who will be unwavering in his defense and leadership on reproductive rights. Walker is not that man. Planned Parenthood Votes endorsed Begich, and I know he “trusts women” to make their own health decisions and will be the leader we need.

• Robin Smith is an Anchorage resident and a former board member of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaii. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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