A super PAC supporting Sen. Lisa Murkowski claims in several TV ads that her top challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, “wants to ban birth control in the mail.” Tshibaka has said she would ban the sale of the morning-after pill via the mail, but the ads leave the misleading impression she would ban all forms of birth control.
The ads attacking Tshibaka come from Alaskans for L.I.S.A. (Leadership in a Strong Alaska), a super PAC that backs Murkowski. The first two 30-second ads each feature a different woman who says some version of, “I’ve seen the video. Kelly Tshibaka says she wants to ban birth control in the mail. That’s nuts.”
The issue of contraceptives by mail is particularly crucial in Alaska, where many of the “communities are located off the road system,” another video states.
A third ad follows the same script, but includes a clip of Tshibaka saying, “I would want to make it illegal to send those pills at all.” A woman in that ad then says, “Kelly Tshibaka says she wants to ban birth control in the mail. That’s nuts.”
The video of Tshibaka is from a small campaign event on March 12. The quality of the audio in the video is not great. We could not make out the entirety of the question Tshibaka was asked, but the gist of it was about making it illegal to order abortion pills by mail, not birth control pills.
“So, yeah, I need to think about that more,” Tshibaka said. “I would want to make it illegal to send those pills at all, so you can’t order those pills. And I know from my time working at Postal Service that we can actually stop sending those pills through the mail. We can actually block them in the mail. If we were to pass that kind of act, the Postal Service can block them using data because I was on the team that developed those models. Creating, so a criminal act of a recipient, the drugmaker, the sender, there’s a whole chain there, right, that we would have to prosecute. It’s an interesting question that I’ll need to think through.”
That clearly marks Tshibaka’s support for banning the distribution via the mail of what is commonly referred to as “the abortion pill,” which is mifepristone taken in conjunction with misoprostol. The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks of gestation.
A man in the audience at the March 12 campaign event then asked Tshibaka if “birth control fall[s] underneath that same category.”
Tshibaka says “it would.” Tshibaka then mentioned abortifacients (drugs that induce abortions), but due to the poor quality of the video, it was unclear to us which forms of birth control she was saying that she believes fall into that category. We reached out to the Tshibaka campaign for clarification, but we got no response.
However, a video posted on Tshibaka’s campaign website makes clear that she considers the Plan B pill, and similar medication known as morning-after pills, to be a pill “that cause[s] abortions” and therefore one that she favors banning via mail. A morning-after pill is taken within five days of unprotected sex to reduce the chance of pregnancy.
“Here’s the truth,” Tshibaka said in the video. “I’m pro-life, and after the Supreme Court decision, some states may not allow abortions. That means that pills that cause abortions like RU-486 or Plan B, they wouldn’t be able to be sold by mail there either. But abortion pills shouldn’t be confused with regular birth control pills, which millions of women, including me, have taken over the years for a variety of reasons. Unlike what the senator and her surrogates are spooking up, no one is coming after our birth control pills.” (RU-486 is the abortion pill.)
In an op-ed for the Anchorage Daily News on Aug. 4, Tshibaka said her words at the March campaign event were being distorted.
Tshibaka op-ed, Aug. 4: Let’s address the biggest lie first – her outrageous claim that I support banning the sale of birth control pills through the mail.
I and members of my family are among the millions of American women who have taken birth control pills. I do not support restricting their sale through the mail or otherwise. Investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an ad campaign will not change that fact.
The deceptive ads rely on video taken out of context from one of my many town halls, when I was answering questions about abortion and other topics. Pills that induce abortions should not be confused with regular birth control pills that prevent pregnancies.
After getting the endorsement of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America in September, Tshibaka said, “Voters will never wonder where I stand, as I will protect life and oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, while supporting access to birth control without a prescription, both over the counter and through the mail.”
While Tshibaka and others in the anti-abortion camp, including the Catholic Church, consider the morning-after pill to be an abortifacient, the Mayo Clinic, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others in the scientific community say the morning-after pill is an “emergency contraceptive” that delays or prevents ovulation but does not end a pregnancy.
In 2013, ACOG and several other medical associations addressed the topic in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case, which established that for-profit, closely-held companies couldn’t be required to pay for contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act because of a federal religious freedom law.
“Scientific research shows that Plan B … function[s] by inhibiting or postponing ovulation” and does not “prevent fertilization or implantation,” the brief states. The characterization of Plan B pills as “abortifacients” is “unsupported,” they wrote.
“Abortifacient has a precise meaning in the medical and scientific community and it refers to the termination of a pregnancy. Contraceptives that prevent fertilization from occurring, or even prevent implantation, are simply not abortifacients regardless of an individual’s personal or religious beliefs or mores,” the brief stated. “The medical and scientific record establishes that the emergency contraceptives approved by the FDA, as well as the approved intrauterine devices, do not interfere with pregnancy and are not abortifacients, because they are not effective after a fertilized egg has successfully implanted in the uterus.”
Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, wrote in August, “Scientific evidence suggests that neither the morning-after pill (which is a higher dose of a hormone used in regular birth control pills) nor IUDs stop the implantation of a fertilized egg and therefore do not cause abortions.”
And so, in the case of morning-after pills, Tshibaka does support banning via mail what ACOG and others in the medical community consider a form of emergency contraception. But the ads suggest Tshibaka would ban all forms of birth control via mail, and Tshibaka has made clear on multiple occasions that that is not her position.
More broadly, Tshibaka’s stance on abortion varies considerably from Murkowski’s. The incumbent Republican has said she supports legislation codifying abortion rights.
“I strongly support women’s reproductive freedoms, including the right to abortion established by Roe and Casey. I also believe in limited government and an individual’s liberty to make choices about their own health,” Murkowski said in May after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “Consistent with Roe and Casey, I support reasonable limits on abortion services related to maternal health. I oppose late-term abortion, as long as there are clear and workable exceptions in the case of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is threatened. I also oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and oppose any requirement for individuals to provide these services against their religious beliefs.”
In addition to Murkowski and Tshibaka, Democrat Pat Chesbro is on the general election ballot. Chesbro is a strong advocate for abortion rights.
Under Alaska’s new voting system, the top four candidates in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, advanced to the general election, which will be decided by ranked-choice voting.
In ranked-choice voting, which Alaskan voters approved in 2020, voters rank the candidates. If no candidate in the first round receives a majority of votes — 50% plus one vote — then the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the second-choice candidates on those ballots are awarded those votes. The process continues until a candidate receives a majority.
The fourth-place finisher in the primary, Republican Buzz Kelley, dropped out of the race on Sept. 12 and threw his support behind Tshibaka, who finished second behind Murkowski in the Aug. 16 primary.
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