Will Alaska Vote to Scrap Its Pro-Choice Constitution?

Some abortion foes see the chance of a lifetime in Alaska’s unusual midterms.

Romain Fellens/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

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Alaska’s conservative streak doesn’t extend to abortion. In fact, it’s a right in the state constitution—for now. Alaskans voting Tuesday will choose whether to keep or rewrite that constitution, putting abortion rights and more on the line.

Every ten years, Alaskans get to vote on holding a constitutional convention, where state legislators would pick delegates to revisit, alter, and potentially completely rewrite the state’s founding document (an affair estimated to cost $16 million). While Alaska’s constitution has been amended 28 times, there’s been no convention since the initial one in 1956—because voters have always and overwhelmingly said no. A recent AARP survey shows that nearly half of Alaskans are still likely to vote no on the question, but that’s a steep drop from the 67 percent who voted against it a decade ago.

Roe coming down just months before the convention vote was no coincidence to Jim Minnery, president of the anti-choice Alaska Family Council.  “I’ve used the word fortuitous, but I would even say ‘divinely appointed’ for those of us who believe that God controls the heavens and the earth,” Minnery told his podcast listeners in June.

Minnery is on the steering committee for Convention Yes, a group just formed in August. Among its leaders are a host of notable Alaska conservatives, including the publisher of a popular state conservative Christian website, a prominent lodge owner, an Anchorage woman whose “desire is to shift paradigms in our culture to reflect kingdom truths,” and Alaska Republican Party chairman Craig Campbell. The state’s Trump-allied Gov. Mike Dunleavy and try-hard House candidate Sarah Palin are both convention supporters.

The pro-convention side isn’t making abortion a major plank, focusing on issues more popular and controversial among Alaskans—like enshrining payouts from the Alaska Permanent Fund, whose oil dividends fund the infamous annual checks sent to qualifying Alaskans. As those payouts have decreased over the years, the fund has become a key controversy and focus of state elections. 

The main anti-convention group, Defend Our Constitution, has wide-ranging bipartisan support—including from most Democrats, many Republicans, major unions, and the Alaska Federation of Natives. The opposition even includes strong abortion opponents: former Republican state legislator and staunch pro-lifer John Coghill is a vocal opponent of reworking the constitution, saying to the Alaska Beacon that there are “other days we could fight without changing the structure of Alaska.” 

Even if the convention does happen, Alaskans will ultimately vote to approve its changes. That’s a safeguard. But it would mean years of uncertainty for Alaska—not just on abortion rights—and likely no shortage of outside influence, either.

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