Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Roger Marshall speaks to potential voters about abortion and other issues Saturday at the outset of a Kansas GOP bus tour one month before voters decide outcome of his campaign against Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Barbara Bollier. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
EL DORADO — There’s little room for political nuance when debate pivots to abortion in the U.S. Senate campaign between Republican Roger Marshall and Democrat Barbara Bollier.
The temptation to ignore subtlety is too great for candidates in such a statistically close race and whenever compelled to discuss abortion — an issue drawing inspiration from elements of health, family, religion, liberty, privacy and law.
Marshall and his allies purposefully struck that nerve during the Kansas Republican Party’s candidate bus tour that launched Saturday in the city of Marshall’s youth and in front of a crowd that included some of his immediate family and lifelong friends.
“We are Americans,” said Marshall, who is seeking to jump from his 1st District seat in the U.S. House to the more exclusive Senate. “We value every life, born and unborn.”
One month before the Nov. 3 election, prospective voters in Kansas are besieged by political action committee advertising portraying Bollier as a “far-left extremist” on abortion. The commercials claim Bollier shamefully voted while a member of the Kansas Legislature against a ban on abortion after 21 weeks of gestation, against a prohibition on a late-term abortion procedure and against a bill mandating teenagers obtain permission from both parents to get an abortion.
Bollier, who is a physician, as is Marshall, has joined others in describing her GOP rival as an unrepentant hardliner on abortion so lacking in empathy that he’s against abortion even when the fetus has been diagnosed with terminal birth defects.
“My life’s work has been devoted to the health and well-being of all people,” said the Democratic state senator from Mission Hills. “As an obstetrician-gynecologist, Congressman Marshall should know how painful, heartbreaking and incredibly personal those situations are for women. It’s disturbing that he wants to inject more government into these private health care decisions between a woman and her doctor.”
Abortion has been given added weight in the Kansas general election showdown because President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court could be a decisive vote to overturn the Roe vs. Wade precedent legalizing abortion in the United States. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judge who was hailed by Marshall and others at the GOP bus tour rallies in El Dorado and Newton.
On the campaign tour, Marshall said a key reason for Kansans to vote for him next month was his commitment to vote for confirmation of pro-life judicial nominees to the federal bench.
Bollier said her election would put in place a moderate U.S. senator with the capacity to more closely represent the majority view of Kansans.
Colorful postcards sent to likely voters by the Senate Leadership Fund working on behalf of Marshall have been critical of her voting record in the Legislature, where she served in the House before moving to the Senate.
A regular piece of the assault refers to House Bill 2218, which banned abortion in Kansas after the 21st week of pregnancy. It was a timeframe in which champions of the bill were certain a fetus could feel pain. Bollier said her “no” vote reflected a view that women should not be forced by state government to carry to full term a nonviable fetus.
She has been criticized by Marshall for voting against House Bill 2035, which required consent of both parents for a teenager to obtain abortion services. She rejected the measure because it didn’t take into account the imperfect dynamics of families and the possibility a teen victim of incest could be forced to convince her attacker father to grant permission for the abortion.
Under Kansas law, an unemancipated minor could receive an abortion with permission of the mother if the pregenancy was caused by the natural father, adoptive father, stepfather or legal guardian. A minor has the option of objecting to the consent requirement by petitioning the district court for relief. State law requires these cases to be referred to law enforcement.
In 2015, Bollier voted against a bill banning a second trimester abortion procedure in Kansas. She defended the vote by arguing it was unwise to remove from a physician’s medical bag a medical technique known to be safe for women.
Alexandra De Luca, a Bollier campaign spokeswoman, said Bollier remained steadfast in the belief women deserved the right to make difficult medical decisions regarding abortion, especially in instances of rape, incest or if the infant has a terminal diagnosis.
“She opposes efforts to eliminate women’s health care options when they have experienced a devastating diagnosis or a life-threatening pregnancy,” De Luca said.
De Luca pointed to a comment on abortion by Marshall during a U.S. Senate debate last month on WIBW radio. While explaining his perspective on the issue, Marshall said he fully comprehended the sanctity of life while delivering more than 5,000 babies. He remarks may have left the impression he didn’t appreciate real-world circumstances of some pregnant women.
“I’m 100% pro-life,” Marshall said at the debate. “I will be against abortions every time and will do everything to protect that life — born or unborn.”
In an interview in El Dorado, Marshall provided a more precise description of his political philosophy on abortion. He said he endorsed provisions of Kansas law that allow abortions to save the life of a pregnant woman or in cases of rape or incest.
“I’m always a physician first,” said Marshall, who practiced in Great Bend. ”When anybody asks about abortion, the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Would you do an abortion for that instance?’ I could never do an abortion regardless, but I’m willing to support legislation with the exceptions.”
Nearly a year ago, EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest political lobbying resource for women, endorsed Bollier. The organization said she was an “accomplished physician and state legislator who will fight to protect Kansans’ access to quality, affordable health care when elected.”
Mary Jean Eisenhower, granddaughter of the late U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, said at a GOP pitstop in El Dorado that she endorsed Marshall, in part, because he stood against individuals willing to rely on abortion as “convenient birth control.”
She shared the anguish of enduring a series of unsuccessful pregnancies and the joy derived from the “miracle” birth of her son, Merrill, in 1981.
“As Kansans,” Eisenhower said, “we are lovers of life.”
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