Peltola strayed from the ‘pro-choice’ line by mistake, her campaign says

Mary Peltola (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Congresswoman Mary Peltola bills herself as the only pro-choice candidate in the U.S. House race. She says she’d vote to “codify Roe” – that is, pass a bill to restore the abortion protections that Roe v Wade established in 1973, which the Supreme Court overturned this summer.

So the candidate’s answer Sept. 8 on an Anchorage Daily News podcast was puzzling.

“Are there any limits on abortion that you would support?” host Elizabeth Harball asked.

“Absolutely. I’m not extreme on this issue,” Peltola said. “I think that the standards that have been set over the last 50 years, or 49 years, in terms of middle ground on – I think most states the limit is 16 weeks, unless it’s a medical emergency. I think some of the sideboards are very important. And I think most Alaskans would agree.”

In an interview a few days later, Peltola said much the same.

“I think most states have a cap at 16 weeks. I think that’s reasonable,” she said.

Limiting abortions to the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, even with exceptions, is not what you’d expect an abortion-rights candidate to endorse. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has proposed a 15-week limit and it’s been portrayed as a ban.

When asked about it, Peltola’s campaign says she misspoke and meant to refer to the viability standard in Roe v. Wade. (Roe established the right to abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb. In 1973, viability was generally thought to occur 24 or more weeks after conception but medical technology has improved to allow for earlier survival.)

Peltola, in an emailed statement from her campaign, said she shouldn’t have gotten into it.

“Politicians should not be discussing the number of weeks associated with viability,” she said in the email. “That is a discussion that should be had between the person, their doctor, and their family – not politicians.” 

Abortion is a known political minefield for candidates. But Peltola faced no apparent blowback after her comment on the ADN podcast. 

Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, one of several abortion-rights groups supporting her, is still on board.

“We appreciate Congresswoman Peltola clarifying her stance as she has been a reproductive rights champion for Alaskans,” Jennifer Allen, the group’s chief executive said by email Tuesday. 

All of Peltola’s rivals are running to her right on the issue. Republican Sarah Palin describes herself as “unapologetically pro-life.” Republican Nick Begich also calls himself “pro-life” and says abortion law should be left to the states. Libertarian Chris Bye supports leaving it up to the states, too.

Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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