Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roger Marshall greets supporters during a campaign stop Tuesday in Topeka. His visit coincided with renewal of questions about abortion in the campaign pitting Marshall against Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A former patient of U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall says his willingness to help her terminate a life-threatening pregnancy in 2000 is evidence of the complexities surrounding the abortion issue.
The Marshall campaign says the procedure to end an ectopic pregnancy isn’t defined as an abortion, a point of view supported by Planned Parenthood and Kansans for Life, organizations at opposite ends of the spectrum on abortion. Marshall, who serves as the 1st District congressman and is an obstetrician-gynecologist, has performed the operation many times, his campaign said.
Still, Shonita Swank argued in social media comments the Republican nominee’s hardline anti-abortion rhetoric during his U.S. Senate campaign against Democrat Barbara Bollier makes him a “hypocrite.”
“It’s complicated because of the type of pregnancy I had,” Swank wrote on Twitter, “but I feel any attack on Roe vs Wade will make it difficult for even emergency abortions like mine to be performed.”
In an interview, she described the painful personal experience that brought her into Marshall’s office at a women’s clinic in Great Bend. Swank said she had been bleeding for weeks and didn’t have health insurance. First, she was surprised to learn from Marshall that she was pregnant. Then, he informed her she would die without an operation.
An ectopic pregnancy of the type experienced by Swank occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. Ectopic, or tubal, pregnancies occur in about two out of every 100 pregnancies. If not treated, the condition can cause internal bleeding, infection and potentially death.
The Kansas City Star first reported Swank’s criticism of Marshall in July, when the Free Forever PAC supportive of former Secretary of State Kris Kobach used one of her tweets in a mailer attacking Marshall. Swank, a Hoisington resident, couldn’t produce medical records at the time. Kobach lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate to Marshall in August.
Marshall and Bollier are competing to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. The super PAC Duty and Country, which is associated with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, intends to invest $7.5 million on behalf of Bollier in the final month of the campaign. The Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC run by allies of U.S. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has committed to spending $7.2 million in the Kansas race to advance Marshall’s campaign.
Swank provided a two-page document showing Marshall’s notes on her procedure. Marshall signed the July 10, 2000, document summarizing each step in the surgical process. His notes describe his use of a laser with a “scalpel tip.”
“Aqua irrigation was used and the ectopic pregnancy nicely came out of the fallopian tube intact,” Marshall’s memorandum says. “The left lower incision was enlarged and a 1 cm trocar inserted through this area. The endo-loop was then used to secure the ectopic pregnancy and this was removed in toto.”
Supporters of women’s reproductive rights and anti-abortion groups don’t consider the removal of ectopic pregnancies to be abortions.
“An operation on an ectopic pregnancy is simply not an abortion,” said Eric Pahls, Marshall’s campaign manager, “and to conflate those two not only is scientifically inaccurate but an insult to a lot of pro-life women who have had an ectopic pregnancy — many of whom we know, and many of whom Dr. Marshall treated.”
Marshall has said on the campaign trail that he is a pro-life candidate who would not perform an abortion. He has attacked Bollier, a state senator from Mission Hills and a retired anesthesiologist, for her votes in the Kansas Legislature on abortion bills. Bollier believes women should retain the right to make personal medical decisions and objected to legislation that restricted access to abortion without exceptions to protect the life of a mother or required the victim of incest to get her father’s permission to have an abortion.
Swank said she previously voted for Marshall because she thought he would be a better congressman than a doctor. This year, she has become increasingly frustrated with his anti-abortion views. Bollier reached out to her after seeing a social media post, Swank said, but agreed to respect her privacy and not use the experience for political purposes. That was before the pro-Kobach mailer appeared without warning, Swank said.
Before her procedure, Swank said, she might have agreed with Marshall’s views on abortion. Now, she said, she realizes “things aren’t so cut and dried.”
Swank is concerned a U.S. Supreme Court reshaped with three picks by President Donald Trump will result in overturn of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed women a right to an abortion. She said an overturn will result in more women dying.
“What doctor is going to risk performing anything when in likelihood there are going to be criminal charges?” Swank said. “I shouldn’t have to go to court to save my life.”
At a campaign stop Tuesday in Topeka, Marshall said Republicans in the U.S. Senate need to rush to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent Democrats from carrying out a liberal agenda.
“They have no value for the sanctity of life,” Marshall said. “We need a Supreme Court that’s going to uphold the Constitution and defend Kansas values.”
The Marshall campaign also issued a statement Tuesday focusing attention on the abortion issue. His campaign touted an article by the conservative organization Breitbart referring to Bollier’s vote in 2016 as a member of the Legislature to repeal a state ban on at-home, drug-induced abortions conducted via telemedicine.
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