A Pro-Life Win in Alaska

by Michael J. New

The story got a little lost in the excitement of the primaries, but the pro-life movement made history on Tuesday night when voters in Alaska approved Ballot Measure 2, a parental-notice law, 55–45 percent. This marks the first time that the pro-life movement has used the citizen initiative to pass a parental-involvement law. (The other 29 parental-involvement laws currently in effect were all enacted through the legislative process.)

Pro-lifers haven’t historically had much success with initiative campaigns. Efforts to enact a parental-notice law in California in 2006 and 2008 both failed by narrow margins. In the late 1990s, attempts to use the citizen initiative to enact partial-birth abortion bans in Maine, Colorado, and Washington were also unsuccessful. One reason these attempts so often failed was that pro-lifers often have difficulty raising enough funds to run a credible campaign.

This year, pro-lifers in Maine faced similar obstacles. Many Planned Parenthood chapters from western states donated to Alaskans Against Government Mandates, which opposed the parental-notice law; as of late July, opponents of the measure had raised over $750,000. But the pro-lifers succeeded. There are a few reasons for this. First, the relatively low cost of media in Alaska might have made it easier for supporters of Ballot Measure 2 to overcome their financial disadvantage. Also, the contested Republican U.S. Senate primary might have increased turnout among pro-life voters.

Gains in pro-life public sentiment likely played a role as well. In May 2009, for the first time ever, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of respondents were willing to describe themselves as pro-life. That spring, a number of other polling organizations showed a substantial increase in the number of people either willing to identify themselves as pro-life or willing to support greater restrictions on abortion. Indeed, many of the previous efforts to enact pro-life laws through the initiative process failed by relatively narrow margins. As such, these recent gains in public support might have well produced the margin of victory for pro-lifers in Alaska on Tuesday.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.