TOPEKA — After years of Kansas governors who irritated and angered them, abortion opponents have one they're ready to cheer, and hundreds did just that Friday after Gov. Sam Brownback spoke at a rally on the Statehouse's south steps.
Anti-abortion groups were buoyed by the election of Brownback and a crop of sympathetic Kansas House members in November. They anticipate the passage of proposals to strengthen reporting rules for abortion providers, new restrictions on late-term procedures and a law requiring doctors to obtain parental consent before performing an abortion for a girl under 18.
The state's political shift gave an upbeat cast to the annual events organized by the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. The ruling's 38th anniversary is today.
"It's kind of hard to believe that things are as good as they are. It takes getting used to," Mary Kay Culp, the group's executive director, said after the rally.
Abortion-rights advocates have braced for a raft of anti-abortion legislation without the comfort of having a governor who will veto it, as Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson did over the past eight years.
"The anti-choice bills that have been passed across the country are heavily litigated," said Julie Burkhart, founder and executive director of a new abortion-rights group, Trust Women. "We have relied heavily on the judicial system."
Abortion-rights supporters also argue that Kansas residents expect Brownback and fellow Republicans who hold large legislative majorities to concentrate on creating jobs and closing a projected $550 million budget shortfall.
State House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, an abortion-rights supporter, noted that Brownback stressed economic issues during his successful campaign last year.
"I'm not sure the extreme right wing of the Republican Party has gotten that message. They still seem to be so very obsessed with the social issues of the past that I think Kansans are tired of debating and want to see us leave behind," Davis said. "I hope that we will remain focused on economic issues."
But in a State of the State address that concentrated on economic issues, Brownback also called for legislators to create "a culture of life," and a week later, dozens of House members introduced a comprehensive bill.
Brownback told Friday's rally that the anti-abortion movement's essential message is that every person matters. He concluded his remarks with a prayer: "Forgive us as Kansans for the spilling of innocent blood, whether that's Native American or our unborn."
Burkhart said officials should tackle issues such as making sure all Kansas residents have adequate health care and women have access to child care if they work.
"Love and compassion is not shaming women and not vilifying women who have made difficult choices," she said. "Let's stop focusing on pregnant women who at times decide they can't continue a pregnancy."
But Brownback also used his rally speech Friday to encourage abortion foes to reach out to women who've sought or had abortions and to "open our hearts and heal" those women.
"Never forget that this message is one of kindness and hope and compassion," he said. "Tell the truth. Stand for justice. Be of good cheer."