The day after former Kansas legislator Josh Svaty used a Democratic gubernatorial debate to position himself as an abortion-rights supporter, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes announced its endorsement of one of his rivals, state Sen. Laura Kelly.
“(Kelly) is no-nonsense, she is incredibly qualified and she has been a great leader in the Senate,” said Rachel Sweet, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.
Sweet also pointed to what she said was Kelly’s consistent voting record in favor of women’s reproductive rights and teenage pregnancy prevention.
Women’s reproductive rights have emerged as a major issue in the Democratic primary.
Svaty has taken heat for voting 11 times in favor of restrictions on abortion rights during his time in the Legislature. He has said that if elected governor, he will veto any new restrictions on abortion.
“One thing we’ve learned about women’s health over the last hundred years is you can never make abortion illegal, you can only limit access to safe abortion,” Svaty said during a debate Wednesday night in Wichita. “I would always trust women to make their own health decisions.”
That wasn’t enough for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.
“A record is far more important than rhetoric,” Sweet said. “While (Svaty) can say he trusts women, he has a record of voting for policies that we believe are really extremist in nature, and he’s tried to sort of dodge this issue, as opposed to addressing it head on.”
Kelly said Svaty had not shown a clear position on abortion before Wednesday night.
“All along the campaign trail, what Josh said was that he would veto any further restriction,” Kelly said. “Kansas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, so it’s been a hollow promise all along.”
Svaty, in a statement, said that Kelly’s running mate, state Sen. Lynn Rogers, had previously been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. Svaty said his running mate, Katrina Lewison, supports abortion rights.
“This endorsement is not surprising,” Svaty said. “What is surprising is that Planned Parenthood is not thinking about the importance of making sure either Kris Kobach or Jeff Colyer is not elected Governor in November.
“Their candidate, Senator Kelly, cannot win the general election. And more and more Kansas Democrats, including thousands of women all over the state, realize the Svaty/Lewison team is the only Democratic team that can beat Kobach or Colyer.”
The third major Democratic candidate, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, also questioned Rogers’ commitment to women’s rights. He said Rogers has “entrenched” anti-abortion views that would be clear if Kelly were unable to serve and Rogers became governor.
“When I was selecting my running mate (Chris Morrow), I selected someone that no matter what happens we would hold true to the philosophy of women’s rights,” Brewer said.
Though he does not have an extensive voting record on abortion, Brewer said he has been a strong supporter of women’s rights.
“I believe no man or no person has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body,” Brewer said.
Kelly said she has been a consistent supporter of women’s rights in the Senate.
“I have been a vocal advocate for women’s reproductive rights since my first legislative session,” Kelly said in a statement to The Star. “When the Kansas Legislature cut funding to Planned Parenthood — money that was going to basic healthcare like annual exams, birth control and preventative care — I fought back.”
Along with the endorsement, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes said it would donate to the Kelly campaign and encourage its supporters across the state to vote for her in the Aug. 7 primary. Sweet said the organization is prepared to “work for (their) candidate.”
Because of the national political climate and record of Republican lawmakers and candidates in Kansas, Sweet said, abortion rights is a pivotal issue this election cycle.
If the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case were overturned, she said, reproductive rights would be left entirely to the states.