Sarah Palin Defends Abortion Stance, Explains 'Bridge to Nowhere' Support

Vice presidential candidate talks with Charles Gibson in exclusive interview.

September 12, 2008, 10:11 AM

Sept. 12, 2008— -- Gov. Sarah Palin made sure Friday that the Republican Party's conservative base heard loud and clear that when it comes to traditional platforms like cutting wasteful spending, and upholding the right to life, she is on their side.

In her third and final exclusive interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, Palin discussed a range of domestic issues and defended herself against allegations that she flip-flopped on a controversial and costly infrastructure project and fired a state official who refused to sack her former brother-in-law.

Touting her experience as a reformer who shares running mate Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., passion for cutting taxes and slashing Congressional pork, Palin also drew contrasts between herself and the Arizona senator on issues like stem cell research and abortion.

Read the full excerpts from all three of Charlie Gibson's exclusive interviews with Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by clicking here.

Palin took a harder line than McCain on those social issues, but called her sentiments "personal opinion[s]" that could potentially differ from official policy in a McCain White House.

McCain supports abortion in instances of rape or incest, but Palin, a mother of a 5-month-old infant with Down syndrome, said she would advocate abortion only if a mother's life was in danger.

"My personal opinion is that abortion [should be] allowed if the life of the mother is endangered. Please understand me on this. I do understand McCain's position on this. I do understand others who are very passionate about this issue who have a differing opinion," she said.

Palin also diverged with McCain on the use of embryonic stem cells to develop potentially life saving remedies for diseases, like Parkinson's, and said she, instead, supported the use of adult stem cells.

"My personal opinion is we should not create human life, create an embryo and then destroy it for research, if there are other options out there," she said.

If she diverged with McCain on social issues, she toed the campaign line on economic policies, like cutting taxes and opposing congressional bills stuffed with wasteful earmarks.

Palin reduced her economics policy to three key issues: reduce taxes, control spending and reform the oversight committees that review spending.

The governor characterized such needless projects funded by American taxpayers and supported by members of Congress as an "embarrassment."

"It has always been an embarrassment that abuse of [the] earmark process has been accepted in Congress. And that's what John McCain has fought. And that's what I joined him in fighting," she said.

Palin said she opposed earmarks and defended her own record as the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, which received around $27 million in federal funding, and her decision to first back and then withdraw support of the so-called 'Bridge to Nowhere.'

The governor withdrew support of the bridge, slated to be built with $398 million in federal funds, to a small island with 50 residents after the project became synonymous with needless government spending.

When pushed by Gibson for supporting the bridge and then opposing it, Palin said she never fought for the bridge, but was, instead, in favor of money used to improve Alaska's infrastructure. The state still received the federal funds, even though the bridge project was nixed.

Sarah Palin Thinks Barack Obama Regrets Not Picking Hillary Clinton

Palin also couldn't resist tweaking the Obama camp a bit over the Democratic nominee's choice of vice president.

Palin told Gibson that she thinks Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., regrets not picking Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as his vice presidential running mate.

"I think he's regretting not picking her now, I do. What, what determination, and grit, and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way -- she handled those well," she said.

Palin took the mantle of the campaign's only female contender after Obama defeated Clinton for their party's nomination, and picked Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., as his Democratic running mate over Clinton and others.

Palin has praised Clinton on the campaign trail, and when she was first introduced as McCain's running mate last month in Ohio.

"The women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," Palin said as she accepted McCain's invitation to join the 2008 Republican ticket, referring to a line made famous in Clinton's concession to Obama.

Clinton has been reluctant to criticize Palin on the campaign trail so far, but the Obama campaign issued a strong response after ABC News aired Palin's comments.

"Sarah Palin should spare us the phony sentiment and respect. Gov. Palin accused Sen. Clinton of whining, and John McCain laughed when a questioner referred to her by using a demeaning expletive. John McCain and Sarah Palin represent no meaningful change, just the same failed policies and same divisive, demeaning politics that has devastated the middle class," said Obama supporter Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

The 'Bridge to Nowhere' is not the only controversy surrounding the 44-year-old governor.

Palin is under investigation by the state legislature into whether she inappropriately dismissed Walter Monegan, a member of the Alaska Public Safety Commission, after he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.

On Friday the committee investigating "Troopergate" subpoened 13 witnesses including Todd Palin, the governor's husband.

Palin painted her sister's ex-husband Mike Wooten as a dangerous member of the state police who threatened the governor and her family.

"The trooper in question here did conduct dangerous and illegal activities and our personal security detail, when I was first elected, had asked us very appropriately: 'Are there any threats against you and your family?' And I said, well, you know, ironically, yeah, it's a state trooper who's threatened to kill my dad and bring down me and once I got elected. His threats were [that] he was going to bring down the governor and the governor's family, so it was very appropriate that we brought the concerns to the personal security detail. They asked us to bring it to the commissioner, which I did."

Palin said that she believe the state's Personel Board and not the state senate should investigate the case and denied that she appointed the board's members.

Palin, just two years into her first term as governor, made a name for herself as a "reformer" and in her second interview with Gibson on Thursday trumpeted her record of taking on oil companies and corruption in Alaska.

In Thursday's first interview, Palin hewed closely to the McCain talking points, mirroring the presidential nominee's positions on foreign policy and national security.

In Thursday's second interview, when it came to the discussion of energy policy, turf the Alaska governor is far more comfortable discussing, many of the differences between she and McCain were exposed.

McCain has said he believes humans are responsible for climate change and that the government should not allow drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, positions opposite to those of his running mate.

"Do you still believe that global warming is not man-made?" Gibson asked Palin.

"I believe that man's activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. Here in Alaska, the only arctic state in our Union, of course, we see the effects of climate change more so than any other area with ice pack melting. Regardless, though, of the reason for climate change, whether it's entirely, wholly caused by man's activities or is part of the cyclical nature of our planet -- the warming and the cooling trends -- regardless of that, John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it and we have to make sure that we're doing all we can to cut down on pollution."

In the past, including in an interview with in August just ahead of her nomination, Palin said: "I'm not one though who would attribute [global warming] to being man-made."

In her interview with Gibson, Palin was much more measured in her response.

Alaska Governor Defends Global Warming Stance, Argues for Oil Drilling

McCain and Palin agree on offshore drilling but differ on exploration in ANWR, a federally protected wildlife reserve.

"I'm going to keep working on that one with him. ANWR, of course, is a 2,000 acre swath of land in the middle of about a 20 million acre swath of land -- 2,000 acres that we're asking the feds to unlock so that there can be exploration and development? We'll agree to disagree, but I'm gonna keep pushing that and I think eventually we're all gonna come together on that one."

It might, however, not take too much work to convince McCain to change his mind.

"I continue to examine it," the Arizona senator told The Weekly Standard at the end of August.

The comfort she showed when talking about a proposed pipeline that would supply the lower 48 states with natural gas from Alaska contrasted sharply with her generally rote talking points on national security during the day's first interview with Gibson.

Palin has no previous foreign policy experience and her comments hewed closely to the McCain camp's established foreign policy positions on former Soviet nations joining NATO, and the threats posed from Islamic terrorists and a nuclear Iran.

When asked if Georgia joined NATO whether that would mean that the United States should go to war if the country was again invaded by Russia, Palin responded: "Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help."

"And we've got to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable," she said.

Palin -- whose military experience is limited to her gubernatorial role as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, an organization with fewer members than there are citizens in the town of which she was mayor -- tried to tout her energy expertise in lieu of her lack of national security policy.

"Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that's with the energy independence that I've been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy, that I worked on as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, overseeing the oil and gas development in our state to produce more for the United States. ... But I want you to not lose sight of the fact that energy is a foundation of national security. It's that important. It's that significant," she said.

On Israel's right to defend itself against a nuclear-armed and bellicose Iranian regime, Palin agreed with McCain that the country had a right to take action.

"Well, first, we are friends with Israel, and I don't think that we should second-guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security."

Iran, she said, presented a threat not only to Israel but to "everyone in the world."

"We have got to make sure that these weapons of mass destruction, that nuclear weapons are not given to those hands of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, not that he would use them, but that he would allow terrorists to be able to use them," she said.

Like much of the reaction to Thursday night's exclusive interview of Palin by ABC News's Charles Gibson, opinions about how she responded to one question in particular about the "Bush Doctrine" fell along partisan lines.

When asked by Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine -- the administration's policy of pre-emptively striking another country in the face of potential attack -- Palin seemed unfamiliar with the term.

Palin initially said she interpreted the Bush doctrine to mean the president's "world view."

When asked by Gibson, "Do we have a right to anticipatory self-defense? Do we have a right to make a pre-emptive strike again another country if we feel that country might strike us?" Palin said yes.

"Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend," the Alaska governor said.

ABC readers commented through the night on how Palin handled the question and the pundits similarly weighed in this morning on "Good Morning America."

"I know people will really try to go after that and say she didn't even know what that was," ABC News consultant and Republican strategist Torie Clarke told "Good Morning America."

"You can pick 500 people out of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, and say tell me what the Bush doctrine is, and they would go 'I don't know,'" Clarke said. "But I don't think that's going to have, I don't know, the substance or the bite, that some people think it will."

Throughout the two interviews Palin granted ABC News Thursday, the governor appear poised and on message. But the seeming slip-up over the Bush doctrine opened the door for Democrats to pounce.

"It's the premise of our foreign policy of the last seven years. Again, for somebody that got a passport last year, I'm just being honest," Democratic strategist James Carville told "GMA." "I'm not surprised she didn't know."

"She needs to get up to speed a little more," Carville said.