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Archive for Saturday, November 2, 2002

Candidates face divisive abortion issue

Phone messages, letters raise criticism in campaign’s last days

November 2, 2002

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— Abortion -- an issue that has been mostly absent during the Kansas governor's race -- made an appearance Friday.

Democratic candidate Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights, criticized recorded telephone messages made by anti-abortion groups on behalf of Republican candidate Tim Shallenburger, who opposes abortion.

And anti-abortion advocates criticized Sebelius for a letter she wrote to voters in which they say she pretends to oppose abortion.

Debate about the issue erupted as the gubernatorial campaign entered its last weekend before Tuesday's election. The latest poll on the race, conducted for The World Company, showed Sebelius with a 7-point lead, although Shallenburger is gaining support and within striking distance.

Sebelius and Shallenburger have spent little time talking about abortion during the campaign, outlining their positions only when asked at forums and debates.

Sebelius supports a woman's right to an abortion, and has said if elected she would offer no changes to Kansas law.

That law allows abortions in the first two trimesters of pregnancy and prohibits late-term abortions except in cases where the mother's life, physical health or mental health are in jeopardy.

Shallenburger opposes abortion and has said he would support bills that require minors get parental consent before having an abortion.

Now, anti-abortion advocates have begun issuing a wave of recorded telephone messages in which they condemn Sebelius for taking campaign contributions from Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.

  • See past stories, voting maps, a governor's race Q & A, and our Truth Test analyzing the governor's candidates' TV commercials. Here.

In one of those messages, David Gittrich, president of Kansans for Life, says: "So why is the abortion industry supporting Kathleen Sebelius -- Because she wants every abortion to be legal -- late-term abortions, abortions on minors without parents' knowledge. She even wants you and I to pay for abortions."

Gittrich praises Shallenburger in the telephone message as pro-life and "an honest, decent Christian man with strong moral values."

So Sebelius is sending letters to voters in which she notes her Catholic faith and says, "I am not pro-abortion. I will not, and never have, promoted abortion. I feel about abortion just like you do, and I have worked all my adult life to make sure that there are viable alternatives to abortion."

She said the only difference between herself and Shallenburger on whether a woman should be able to get an abortion was that "I will not make that decision for all women in Kansas."

"I am concerned that Tim Shallenburger is using that one difference between you and me to separate us on everything else. I beg you not to let that happen," she wrote.

The letter prompted anti-abortion news conferences Friday in Overland Park, Topeka and Wichita. In Topeka, Jeanne Gawdun, a former lobbyist for Kansans for Life, said: "Sebelius is hard-core pro-abortion."

"It's one thing for Sebelius to work to protect abortion her entire career, but it's the height of arrogance, or delusion, to think you can get away with lying about it," Gawdun said.

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