A film version of the book What's the Matter With Kansas? shows that Kansas has been torn by the abortion debate since long before Dr. George Tiller's assassination, and that the issue remains at the heart of the state's contentious politics.
The clip below includes footage of Dr. Tiller, rendered chilling by his recent death. According to a story that went up late yesterday on the AP, Tiller became a lightning rod for Kansas anti-abortion forces not only because he performed late-term abortions but because, unlike many abortion providers, he was publicly visible and highly outspoken. This much is clear from the clip: Tiller says, "if a stake has to be driven through the heart of the anti-abortion movement, I want to have my hand on the hammer."
Unfortunately, plenty of people felt this way about Tiller. He was in many ways the center of the Kansas abortion debate, which has been, in turn, the center of Kansas politics in general. In the book What's the Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank said the presence of Tiller's clinic made anti-abortion activists dub Kansas "the abortion capital of the nation." The issue is a highly polarizing one, dividing far-right, often evangelical Christians from more moderate Republicans and from Democrats. Political science professor Burdett Loomis says,
When you get down to the heart of the split among Kansas Republicans, it always comes back to abortion. It may pop out in gun laws, homeschooling, evolution - but it starts and stops with abortion.
Frank tells stories of several Kansans who have switched political parties solely because of their views on abortion. One is a friend's father, a teacher and former McGovern Democrat. Frank writes:
These days he votes the farthest-right Republicans he can find on the ballot. The particular issue that brought him over was abortion. A devout Catholic, my friend's dad was persuaded in the early nineties that the sanctity of the fetus outweighed all of his other concerns, and from there he gradually accepted the whole pantheon of conservative devil-figures: the elite media and the American Civil Liberties Union, contemptuous of our values; the la-di-da feminists; the idea that Christians are vilely persecuted — right here in the U.S. of A. It doesn't even bother him, really, when his new hero Bill O'Reilly blasts the teachers' union as a group that "does not love America."
Taken together, the documentary and the book make yet another case that the assassination of Dr. Tiller was not "an isolated act,"
but a particularly tragic skirmish in a long, broad war. A woman's right to choose is at risk in Kansas, as are the lives of those who uphold it. For anyone who has gotten complacent about abortion rights, What's the Matter With Kansas? is a disturbing reminder that many people in this country desire — passionately, crazily, and sometimes badly enough to kill — to take those rights away.
What's The Matter With Kansas? [Official Film Site]
New Documentary Spotlights Tiller [Broadsheet]
What's The Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won The Heart of America
Kansas Is Deadly Battleground In Abortion Debate [AP, via Yahoo News]