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Brownback Wants You--

By Diane Wahto
Opinion | September 16, 2015

To procreate--if you're a woman.

An old story, from the April 12, 1999, edition of the Topeka Capital Journal has the headline: "Brownback: Abortion Partially to Blame for Social Security Woes." At the time a U.S. Senator, Sam Brownback, came to Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, to speak to college students, high school students, senior citizens, and anyone else who had the noon hour free to listen to him.

I was still teaching at Butler. I was free between classes to go to the all-purpose room to hear what he had to say. I am the "older woman" who called Brownback out when he said women who got abortions were responsible for the shortfall in Social Security. I don't remember what he said in response to my remarks. I had a one o'clock class to get to, so I didn't hear any follow-up.

Why is this incident still important today? Once again, Brownback has gone on the warpath against women, mainly women of childbearing age who use Planned Parenthood for abortions, birth control, and other health care, such as mammograms. Recently, a Planned Parenthood employee talked freely, and flippantly, about a program of fetal tissue donation that some Planned Parenthood affiliates engage in. This conversation was videotaped, then edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood was making a profit from the tissue donation project.

Cecile Richardson, Planned Parenthood president, has explained that Planned Parenthood charges only for transportation of the tissue and makes no money from the tissue, which is used for research. The tissue is taken only after a woman has given her permission for the tissue to take place.

One of the ironies of this situation is that Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, signed on to the bill that allows for fetal tissue to be donated for research. Another irony is that Dr. Ben Carson, who is running for president on the Republican ticket, has used fetal tissue in his research. Both these men now are howling their heads off at what they say is a travesty. McConnell wants to defund Planned Parenthood as a result.

Brownback knows that Kansas passed a law some years ago making fetal tissue collection and donation illegal. He also knows that no Planned Parenthood facility in Kansas is taking fetal tissue for research. However, that hasn't stopped him from directing the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts to investigate all the Kansas Planned Parenthood facilities.

Of course, the goal of such research is not to ferret out any wrongdoing. It is to throw suspicion on an organization that provides free or low cost health care services to women, with the ultimate goal of pushing the state legislature to end funding for Planned Parenthood. Such funding cuts have already happened in other states.
In Brownback's world view, the most important role for a woman should have is that of mother. Well, that is, if they first become wives. He also thinks that people should stay married, no matter what the situation in the marriage is--that is, unless the couple happens to be part of the LGBT community. But that's an issue for another time.

While he has enough smarts to avoid saying that women should do their duty and give birth, that's what is behind his attack on women who have abortions in general and on Planned Parenthood in particular. His anti-woman, pro-birth stance is no secret and right now he has the votes in the legislature to go along with him on this issue.

In fact, during the last legislative session, I was shocked beyond belief when I saw that a state representative I have supported with donations of money and letters to the editor voted in favor of a bill that made illegal a second trimester abortion procedure. When I asked this legislator about his vote, he said he surveyed his constituents and they were in favor of the bill. This representative, a retired public school teacher, is good on education and other issues that are important to many of us in the state. However, his vote on the abortion issue is an indication of how far the reach of the Brownback ideology has spread.

When I first came back to Kansas from Michigan in 1972, I lived with my parents in my small hometown in Southeast Kansas. I felt like I'd moved back to the 1950s, given that attitudes there hadn't changed much since I left in 1958. However, I found that in many ways, Kansans were still moderate and it was possible to get moderate Republicans and even a Democrat elected to office in Kansas. For whatever reasons, and there are many, including the growth of the Koch-backed Tea Party and the onslaught of Operation Rescue in Wichita in the 1990s, moderation has become a dirty word in this state. Those of us who call ourselves liberals are now the enemy, even, I'm sorry to say, to the Kansas Democratic Party.

Last spring, several women and I met with Larry Meeker, the new KDP chair. Thanks to Joan Wagnon, outgoing KDP chair, I was appointed to the KDP Platform working group last summer. The KDP Platform includes strongly-worded planks on reproductive rights and LGBT rights. When I asked Meeker why our candidates didn't talk about these issues when they campaigned for the 2014 election, he said they couldn't win on those issues. I responded, "They didn't win anyway."

Brownback belongs to a right-wing Catholic cult-like group called Opus Dei, as well as another right-wing group, The Fellowship. It is from vantage point that Brownback's governs when it comes to women. It seems the population of the state, as well as some members of the KDP, have fallen in line right behind the governor.

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