‘Heartbroken,’ ‘Betrayed:’ Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Alaskans woke up last Friday to the news the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision had been overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court, ending nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion and clearing the path for states to establish their own laws on the procedure.

Peninsula resident Megan Mitchell, who heard the news when she woke up, stood Friday at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways holding a sign that said “‘Pro-Life’ is a LIE You don’t care if women DIE.” Some passersby offered honks of support or flashed thumbs-ups through their window.

“I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed and then I think kind of this sense of helplessness kind of came over me,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she had to go to her job shortly after and pretend like she wasn’t “completely gutted,” and resolved to take action after she got off work.

“I didn’t know of any other protests, so I just came out here,” Mitchell said. “This felt like all I could do today, and I needed to do something.”

With Mitchell at the “Y” was her boyfriend, Nick McCoy.

“I’m just here trying to show support and be supportive, because it’s absolutely abhorrent that someone just decided to wake up and go, ‘No, like, none of your rights matter (and) none of your privacy rights matter,’” McCoy said. “Roe was about health care.”

Mitchell said she wants to see Roe v. Wade codified by Congress and that abortion is not a just a constitutional right, but also a human one. She’s especially concerned about “trigger laws” that will take effect statewide because Roe was overturned.

“Even though I want it to be codified in each state, I think federally it has to be codified because this is all women,” Mitchell said. “I mean, I’m not free if another woman isn’t. I just think it has to be a congressional issue. (Congress) could have codified it 20 years ago, and it’s a failure that they didn’t.”

Numerous states have enacted “trigger laws,” or laws that go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s in addition to states that have already banned abortions, such as Texas and Georgia, which ban abortions after six weeks. Missouri’s trigger law, for example, took effect immediately on Friday and bans all abortions with no exceptions for rape and incest.

Summer Lazenby, a local activist and one of the organizers of last fall’s national Women’s March in Soldotna, said Friday she was disappointed by the Roe v. Wade decision.

“This decision doesn’t end abortion, it just ends safer abortion,” she said. “Rich women in conservative states will be able to travel and still secure (their) health care … Whereas different populations are not going to be able to secure that same level of medical care.”

She said it’s a sad day for the country.

“It’s disappointing that women today have fewer rights than women over the last 50 years,” Lazenby said. “There’s people who just like women barefoot and pregnant back in the kitchen. I think we’re seeing some of that faction of America that’s always been there.”

Study results published last week by the Pew Research Center show that a majority of American adults say abortion should be legal in some cases but illegal in others. The survey included about 10,441 U.S. adults who were surveyed between March 7 and March 13.

An analysis of abortion access in Alaska post-Roe conducted by the Anchorage Daily News last December found that abortion access would likely remain unchanged in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Privacy protections described by the Alaska Constitution as well as rulings by the Alaska Supreme Court, the ADN reported, “will preserve abortion access here.”

Efforts are underway, however, to call a state constitutional convention, through which parts of the Alaska Constitution could be rewritten. Alaska voters will decide in November whether a constitutional convention will be held.

Officials react

The early morning decision released a flood of statements from politicians and organizations, as well as Alaska candidates for office.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement Friday afternoon that he plans to introduce legislation during the Alaska Legislature’s next session that would propose a constitutional amendment “to answer the question whether abortion shall, or not be a constitutionally protected right.”

“I have always had faith in the people of Alaska to make the right decision when it comes to our constitution and protecting our fundamental rights and this issue is no different,” Dunleavy said.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Pierce, who is currently running for governor, praised the Supreme Court decision.

“I fully support the Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade. In addition, I fully support adoption with counseling and support for both the expectant mother and the adoptive parents during all stages of pregnancy, childbirth and afterward.”

On the issue of a constitutional convention, Pierce said that would be up to the voters.

‘The question of an Alaska State constitutional convention will be for the voters of Alaska to decide. If called there can be many, many items that will be addressed at the constitutional convention. It would certainly be an exciting time.”

Former state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Les Gara has said he’s the only one in his race to fully support access to abortion.

“This decision puts a woman’s right to make her own health decisions front and center in Alaska’s race for governor,” Gara said in a statement Friday. “Alaska law will become the last line of defense for a woman’s right to make her own private health decisions. As Alaska’s next governor, I will do everything within my power to defend that right, just as I did when I served in Alaska’s State House of Representatives.”

Former Gov. Bill Walker, who is again seeking the office as an independent, said in a statement that if elected as governor he and his pick for lieutenant governor, Heidi Drygas, would support access to abortion in Alaska.

“Bill is personally pro-life, and Heidi is personally pro-choice, but we are aligned in our goal of protecting women and families in Alaska,” the statement said. “We also stand unified in upholding Alaska’s constitution, which has long guaranteed that a woman has the right to make her own reproductive decisions.”

The Alaska Senate’s six-member Democratic minority released a statement condemning the decision.

“Women across this country have lost their fundamental right to make their own medical decisions,” said state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage. “Instead, a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court decided to interject their personal politics and take over a woman’s right to choose.”

Congressional candidate and former Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican who’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, released a statement Friday lauding the decision.

“I commend the Supreme Court Justices for their courage in righting a wrong that led to the death of millions of babies in the womb. At long last, this 50-year nationwide trail of death is over,” Palin said.

Alaska’s Republican senators released statements alternately praising and condemning the decision.

“The rights under Roe that many women have relied on for decades—most notably a woman’s right to choose—are now gone or threatened in many states,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in a statement. “In the wake of this ruling, it is up to Congress to respond. I introduced legislation in February to protect women’s reproductive rights as provided in Roe, and I am continuing to work with a broader group to restore women’s freedom to control their own health decisions wherever they live.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, who has stated his opposition to abortion, said in a statement Friday policies regarding abortion were now up to individual states, where such a decision belongs.

“I recognize that abortion is a profoundly emotional issue upon which many Alaskans have strongly held views and serious disagreements. The decision today does not by any stretch end that debate,” Sullivan said. “However, it does take the debate out of the realm of federal courts, and gives it back to the states and the people of our country, where I believe it belongs. The people and their representatives, not federal judges, are in the best position to deliberate and decide such an important issue.”

Both Murkowski and Sullivan voted to confirm two of the Supreme Court nominees put forward by the Trump administration, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Comey-Barrett, but Murkowski voted against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.