The pro-life vs. pro-choice debate may be raging nationwide, but it hasn't become an overriding issue in local campaigns as the Aug. 7 primary nears.
A check with a number of area candidates seeking election to the Kansas House of Representatives and a Kansas University political science professor shows that abortion is low on the totem pole of concern to most voters in and around Lawrence.
"To some degree I think, frankly, there's kind of a wait-and-see attitude relating to the national (abortion) issue," said Allan Cigler, a KU associate professor of political science who monitors activities related to the Kansas Legislature.
CIGLER SAID that regardless of the national debate over abortion, and its renewed prominence now that a Supreme Court appointee faces confirmation hearings, abortion just isn't a hot issue in northeast Kansas or with much of the rest of the state.
"I must say that this particular state has not been, down through the years, all that aggressive compared to a lot of other states in any abortion kinds of activity," Cigler said.
With little more than a week to go before the primary election, Cigler said he's seen little evidence of abortion becoming an decisive issue in local state representative races. The only race in which it is seemingly playing a factor, he said, is in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
In the GOP race, incumbent Gov. Mike Hayden is a pro-choice candidate who favors some forms of parental notification for abortion-seeking teens under the age of 16. The other Republican front-runners, Nestor Weigand and Richard Peckham, align themselves with the pro-life movement.
CIGLER SAID he partly attributes Hayden's weakness in polls around Wichita to his pro-choice stance. Wichita, he said, is the lone part of the state where abortion is a highly charged issue.
The leading gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic side, former Gov. John Carlin, also has staked out a pro-choice position.
Lawrence Kansans for Life, a local pro-life group, has endorsed a pair of legislative candidates for their anti-abortion views. But neither of those candidates classified their stance on abortion as critical to their election chances.
"I don't know how it's going to play in the election overall, but I'd say (abortion will be a factor) with a smaller percent of the population than a lot of people would imagine," said Terry O'Malley, a pro-life supporter who is seeking the Republican nomination in the 46th House District.
BOTH O'MALLEY and Joe Gilman, who has pro-life backing in his quest for the Democratic nomination in the 44th District, said they're questioned on abortion only occasionally.
"Overwhelmingly the concern is with taxation and government spending," Gilman said. "I don't hear much about abortion from people."
Betty Jo Charlton, the Democratic incumbent in the 46th District, said she hasn't heard much on abortion either pro or con since the Legislature considered a parental consent bill last session. Charlton, who is pro-choice, echoed Gilman, saying that voters at the moment are more interested in tax issues.
Sandy Praeger, who is unopposed for the GOP nomination in the 44th District, said that she's been asked by just a handful of voters about her stance on abortion.
"I do, however, think when the time comes to make a choice, voters will take a candidate's stance on abortion into consideration," said Praeger, who noted her personal opposition to abortion but supports a woman's choice.
CIGLER SAID that although abortion isn't an issue locally, it still may become one in the future, possibly in time for the November general election. With the confirmation hearings slated for a new Supreme Court justice in the wings, the abortion issue may get more heated at the state level, he said.
"The national issue is liable again to return abortion decisions to the state," Cigler said. "Once that becomes more settled, you may see some more activity at the state level, particularly I would guess more from the pro-choice people."