OVERLAND PARK — Gov. Jeff Colyer aroused a fervent crowd Thursday at the National Right to Life convention by declaring his hope to become the governor who ends abortion in Kansas.
He told attendees who packed the hotel conference room, where he received two standing ovations, that he needs their help in the fight to stack courts, Congress and the Legislature with individuals who support anti-abortion causes.
"We need more prayers," Colyer said. "We need more phone calls. We need you to raise more money. We need you to pass more laws. We need you to save more lives. We need you to love them all."
He was joined on stage by National Right to Life president Carol Tobias, Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp, and George Delgado, medical director for Abortion Pill Reversal. They rallied supporters by telling them they were winning the battle over abortion rights.
The crowd was jubilant over recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the impending departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was selected to lead a discussion group at the convention, said Kennedy's departure means the end of Roe v. Wade is in sight.
As frontrunners for the GOP nomination in this year's governor's race, the convention gave Colyer and Kobach a chance to rally their base. Kobach wants to distinguish himself by highlighting his experience as a constitutional law professor.
Kobach said the 25 judges President Donald Trump is considering for the high court opening are all "originalists" who are unlikely to support a constitutional protection for abortion. Without federal protection, the issue would be settled on a state-by-state basis.
"Even if the pro-life movement’s dreams and aspirations are realized with the next Supreme Court pick," he said, states will become ground zero in the anti-abortion fight.
Both Colyer and Kobach pointed to a forthcoming Kansas Supreme Court decision on a state law that bans the second-trimester dilation and evacuation procedure.
"We need to make sure that we end the barbaric practice — and I say that with all of those words, the barbaric practice — of dismemberment abortion," Colyer said. "And we can’t stop it fast enough."
Kobach said he was better suited to guide policy as governor with his knowledge of what the Kansas Constitution "plainly means," despite recent interpretations by a court whose seven members include four appointed by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Colyer called for an end to all funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of health services that extend beyond abortion. The crowd rewarded Colyer with loud applause.
"Your prayers are mattering," Colyer said. "They make a difference. So I want to thank you, and I want to encourage you to double down. I want you to think about what you’ve been doing. Today is the day we recognize the opportunity ahead of us."
Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said Colyer's remarks show how out of touch he is with the health needs of his state.
"Kansas' next governor should focus on expanding health care access," Hill said, "not making it harder for Kansans to get preventive services like birth control, cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment."
Although Kansans for Life endorsed both candidates, abortion became a campaign issue when Colyer began pointing to statements Kobach made early in his political career in which Kobach supported a mother's right to choose.
Kobach said he was less informed and less mature coming out of law school. His views changed when he saw his first daughter and realized there could be no exceptions, he said, other than to save the life of a mother.
"It shows that he was going really far back in time to find anything he could possibly use," Kobach said.