A pro-choice group that worked with an abortion doctor who was gunned down in 2009 will be assisting Republican Kansas state senators in their bid to defeat conservative challengers in the August primary.
Trust Women, a Wichita-based group headed by Julie Burkhart, will provide campaign assistance to moderate Republican senators in what has become an intraparty battle in the Kansas GOP. Burkhart worked with the political action committee of Dr. George Tiller, who was fatally shot in church in 2009 because he was known for performing late-term abortions.
The split within the Kansas GOP has taken on increasing importance since 2011 with moderate Republican senators regularly uniting with Democrats to block proposals from the more conservative House and Gov. Sam Brownback (R).
"If Brownback gets his way and flips these seats, we know what he's tried to do in the House," Burkhart said, citing several abortion-related proposals that have originated in the lower chamber.
Brownback has told HuffPost that he is not involved in the primaries, which has been noted by several of the challengers. Burkhart disagrees, saying she believes Brownback is behind the effort to elect more conservative candidates.
While both House and Senate have passed several bills to restrict abortion laws since Brownback's 2011 inauguration, the Senate has blocked several anti-abortion bills this year. Senators blocked the state's sweeping 69-page bill, which would have protected doctors from lawsuits linked to withholding medical information from women that could lead them have an abortion. It also would have allowed a sales tax on a procedure.
The Senate is locked in a battle with the House over a bill that would allow doctors statewide to refuse to perform an abortion on religious grounds then not refer women to another doctor.
Burkhart said her group will provide campaigning assistance to moderate candidates in several ways, including recruiting college interns to work on races around the state leading up the August primary. She said the group also will sponsor roundtable discussions for women to discuss the issues and politics behind the choice movement in Kansas.
The abortion issue is one of many that will decide the Kansas Senate primaries. The others include education funding, the selection process for appeals court judges, the future of the state's tax code and state strip-club policy. Senators facing primaries include the top leadership in the chamber.
Burkhart stressed that laws written in the 1990s, which limited where abortions could be performed, but allowed the procedure in the state could be threatened by the current political climate.
"Back in the early 90s, the Kansas legislature crafted a very balanced, thoughtful bill that addressed a woman's right to abortion care," she said. "That's what we saw until 2011. Dr. George Tiller made his practice in Kansas and he ended up serving women who had problems during pregnancy. We had laws supporting his ability to do that. It allowed him to serve women."
Burkhart said she believes that era ended with Brownback's 2010 election. Brownback pledged in his campaign to sign any pro-life bill that reached his desk.
"As long as we have a governor who does not respect women's rights and blatantly allows his agenda to move forward, we will continue to see bills that restrict women's rights," she said.
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