Wichita U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo said he believes abortions should be allowed only when necessary to save the life of the mother, while his Democratic challenger Robert Tillman vows to back abortion rights.
Pompeo, who was swept into office in the November 2010 conservative tide that took the House, told The Associated Press that he would not support any other exception that would permit abortions, even in cases where the mother had been raped.
"I believe that that child — however conceived — is a life and I want very much for that life to continue to exist," Pompeo said.
The conservative Republican said that he voted while in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, which he called the "largest commercial provider of abortions in the United States." Even though no federal money goes to fund abortions, Pompeo contended that the clinics use those federal resources to help pay for their facilities.
Republicans hold all four of Kansas' congressional seats, but Democrats are contesting only two in the fall: the 2nd District held by Rep. Lynn Jenkins and the 4th District held by Pompeo. The two Democratic congressional candidates face long odds in trying to unseat Republican incumbents in the GOP-leaning state.
Pompeo faces an election challenge from Tillman, a retired court services officer and an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama who credits the president as his inspiration to seek public office.
"Republicans are not really serious about the abortion issue," Tillman said. "They use it as a push-button issue to keep people riled up, keep them angry and keep them voting for the Republican Party."
Wichita was the site of the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests, which included attempts to block Tiller's clinic and led to more than 2,700 arrests.
Tillman said abortion rights was not a campaign issue for him, because it was resolved with Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortions.
But the divisive social issue has garnered renewed attention nationally in the presidential race. Obama supports access to abortion. GOP challenger Mitt Romney says Roe v. Wade ruling should be overturned, which would allow states to ban abortion.
The 4th District is also home to the state's aviation industry, where companies such as Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Bombardier Learjet, Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems have struggled during the economic downturn. Hawker Beechcraft is in bankruptcy, and Boeing is leaving town when it closes its defense work next year.
Pompeo was elected in 2010 to his first term, beating state Rep. Raj Goyle by a 59-36 percent margin. Pompeo replaced GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who decided not to seek re-election and lost the Republican U.S. Senate primary to Jerry Moran.
"I have perhaps, most importantly, done precisely what I told voters I would do when I ran almost exactly two years ago: we have pushed back on the size and scope of the federal government, not always successfully against Sen. (Harry) Reid and President Obama," Pompeo said.
The candidates in the 4th District in Kansas mirror much of the campaign stances of their party's nominee in the presidential race.
Pompeo has said he would vote to repeal Obamacare and supports Romney's Medicare and tax plans which Pompeo believes will get the economy growing. He also opposes direct farm subsidies to farmers, but supports a self-sustaining crop insurance program. He wants to roll back government regulation.
Tillman said he supports Obama's health care bill and would raise taxes on the top one percent of income earners. He also is supportive of immigration reform, particularly the DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship.
The last Democrat to hold the seat was Dan Glickman, who was elected in 1976 but lost to Republican Todd Tiahrt in 1994. Glickman later was appointed agriculture secretary by President Bill Clinton.