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00000179-cdc6-d978-adfd-cfc6d7d40002Coverage of the issues, races and people shaping Kansas elections in 2016, including statewide coverage in partnership with KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, and High Plains Public Radio.

For Many Kansas Voters, Abortion No Longer The Issue It Once Was At The Polls

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Carla Eckels
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KMUW

The issues that are drawing people to the polls in Kansas, or keeping them away, in this election are not new: the economy, taxes, gun laws, schools, health care and abortion. But this election may be splitting some voters from their previous tendencies to vote based on a single issue.

Wichita has been no stranger to the contentious issues surrounding abortion. In 1991, a summer-long protest was centered at the clinic of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions.

The issue divided the community and played a role in the swing to more conservatives in Kansas' government.

Twenty-five years later, the protesters returned in July for a demonstration they called the "Summer of Justice," but their numbers had dwindled.

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Protester Dixie Selenke

"Where’s the church of Wichita, Kansas, today?" protestor Dixie Selenke asked as she stood outside the South Wind Women's Clinic. "Where are we? We could come out every day."

Abortion is Selenke's issue, but she said she wasn't sure how much her issue would influence her vote this year.

She said she was leaning towards Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate whose campaign includes a pro-life stance.

"I’m still processing the whole idea," Selenke said. "He’s a little rough around the edges. Should I say that? My hope and faith and trust is in God and Jesus Christ so, [they'll] show me."

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Carolyn Stuhlsatz with Life Chain protesters.

Every year on the first Sunday in October, "Life Chains" organized by the Catholic Church gather to protest abortion in cities across America. In the small Kansas town of Goddard, Carolyn Stuhlsatz is in a Life Chain with her family and members of various churches.

“We’re not angry, we’re not mad, we’re just standing up for life," Stuhlsatz says.

And standing up for life, for Stuhlsatz and others in the Life Chain, translates over into the voting booth.

"The most important issue for us is life," Stuhlsatz says. "We vote pro-life every year."

Stuhlsatz gives out Kansans for Life cards to anyone who stops by. The organization is focusing efforts on pro-life candidates, and on ejecting certain Kansas Supreme Court judges who they believe have been too easy on abortion laws.

"There are some judges in the Kansas Supreme Court who are more liberal, and any bill that comes forward on the Kansas Supreme Court, they’re going to vote against," she says. "It if it’s a pro-life measure to save the babies' lives, they are going to vote against it."

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Life Chain protesters Tim Mann and Sylvia Stuhlsatz participate in a demonstration in Goddard last month.

Sylvia Stuhlsatz, another protester, has been coming to Life Chain events since she was about five years old. Now, at 26, she’s still firm about her stance on abortion, but hasn’t decided who she’ll vote for.

"I’m unsure of how what I’ll need to do when it comes to election time, and I’m still trying to go over the issues of who can best serve our country and our nation, the oldest and the youngest alike," she says.

For others, like Mary Jobe, abortion is a non-issue, at least when it comes to voting.

Jobe is a member of a community bible study group that meets to discuss the scriptures and issues of their faith.

"But I agree too that there are other issues that are pro-life that are being ignored because all of the emphasis and energy is on working against abortion," she says. "I think if they put the same emphasis on education and health care, you would have people not seeking an abortion."

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Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Community study group members Sharon O’Neill, Camilla Hartman and Mary Jobe.

Camilla Hartman, a member of the same bible study group, says the flyers that list pro-life candidates have no impact on her voting decisions.

"I learned from the good nuns, and my 16 years of Catholic education, that you have to form a good conscience, and I believe I have a good background, and so I vote my conscience and not what someone else tells me," Hartman says.

Bible study group member Sharon O’Neill says she’s focused on another matter.

"My biggest concern this election is the retention of the Kansas Supreme Court judges, because it is so important to protect our democracy and the division and not have the judicial system become just a political tool or toy," O'Neill says.

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Credit Wichita State University
WSU Political Science Professor Ken Ciboski

Ken Ciboski, professor of political science at Wichita State University, says he thinks the issue of abortion has gotten lost in the discussion.  

"I don’t think it’s the issue that it was at one time or many people think," he says, "but keep in mind, for some people, it’s the one and only issue they’re going to look at."

Ciboski says there may be an even greater concern for voters than the abortion issue: guns.

"I think people really think they have a right to carry a weapon, carry a pistol, or whatever you want to say, and I think that is a greater concern than maybe even the abortion issue," Ciboski says.

In Wichita, the abortion question is not going to go away. But for some people, they are leaving the issue outside of the voting booth.

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Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

 
To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.