Pro-choice Democrats in the state of Kansas have a pretty tough decision in the coming 2018 gubernatorial election. You may think the obvious choice would be to vote for the Democratic candidate, Josh Svaty, who has previously served as a state lawmaker, state secretary of agriculture, and formerly served in the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama. But as a state lawmaker, Svaty maintained a staunchly anti-abortion voting record.
This week, Planned Parenthood Great Plains told the Kansas City Star Svaty is “an extremist,” and has vowed to challenge his gubernatorial campaign every step of the way.
This hostile skirmish between Planned Parenthood and a Democratic candidate and potential governor marks just the latest chapter in a long, ongoing in-fight among Democratic party leadership and women’s rights advocates.
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez has previously called a woman’s right to bodily autonomy “non-negotiable,” but earlier this month met with Democrats for Life, a group of Democrats who, as you could guess by the group’s name, oppose abortion rights. He defended the meeting by touting his respect for the diversity of Democratic perspectives, and the importance of “listening to all Democrats” as the party “rebuilds” itself, as if women’s fundamental human rights are a matter of opinion and debate.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has become the face of the Democratic party despite being an Independent senator, said of his previous endorsement of an anti-abortion candidate from Nebraska, “I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”
Nancy Pelosi has chimed in that abortion rights are “a fading issue,” despite a recent escalation of restrictions on the procedure in rural states, where abortion clinics are shutting down by the dozen and abortion is becoming financially, geographically, and legally inaccessible to thousands of women. Pelosi has opined that it would be a mistake to exclude any Democrats.
And for his own part, Svaty told the Kansas City Star, “It is important to have healthy diversity of opinions. A Democrat in Baileyville, Kan., is not the same as a Democrat in Brooklyn, N.Y. They just aren’t. … The worlds from which they come are wildly different.”
But this isn’t a matter of inclusion or exclusion, nor is it a matter of healthy debate on the issues. We’re not squabbling over the details of a tax plan or arguing about school vouchers.
The fact that Democratic leadership are even having this conversation at all is frankly insulting to all women. We’re being told that our most fundamental human rights can be used as a bargaining chip for a few cheap, potential political victories. We’re being told that if lawmakers want to take us back to the days when women died or were severely injured as a result of back-alley abortions, to the days when women were second-class citizens with zero reproductive options, that’s all permissible so long as these lawmakers identify as Democrats.
Planned Parenthood is right to call Svaty an extremist — frankly, what else do you call someone who opposes women having human rights in the 21st century?
The choice is ultimately up to Kansas Democrats. Forced to pick between the lesser of two evils, maybe they’ll find Svaty to be the better choice if his economic policies have the potential to empower and enfranchise Kansas women.
But we can’t forget how many legislative decisions about abortion rights are made in the states, how much state legislatures and governors can help women — or hurt them. On a state level, we could see abortion publicly funded and supported, or we could see access to it absolutely decimated. There’s so much fighting that still must be done in states, and if the Democratic party condones — let alone endorses — “extremist” candidates like Svaty, women will have to look elsewhere for the protection of their rights.
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