Politics & Policy

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

A primary loss.

The Kansas City Star, in its first paragraph reporting district attorney Phill Kline’s loss in the Johnson County, Kansas, primary Tuesday night, illuminated the candidate’s problem:

A political newcomer knocked Phill Kline out of the race for Johnson County district attorney Tuesday, defeating the hopes of abortion opponents who had campaigned nationwide.

Kline became regarded as the great pro-life hope of a nation — largely because he took on that untouchable, Planned Parenthood — when he should have been seen as a solid law-and-order guy.

One letter writer to the same paper gets it. “Phill Kline can represent me any day of the week,” she wrote before the election, reacting to the murder trial of Kelsey Smith. The 18-year-old had just graduated from high school when Edwin R. Hall spotted her “nice legs” at a jewelry counter at Target. Late last month, Kline secured guilty pleas from Hall for capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape, and aggravated sodomy. The case got Kansans, scared for their children, up in arms.

That same principle that put Kelsey’s murderer away, though, drove Kline to prosecute abortion providers — his actions were not those of a reckless pro-life crusader misusing his office to ignore Roe under the radar in the heartland. His now-infamous 107 charges against Planned Parenthood stemmed from allegations of child abuse and illegal late-term abortions.

Kline’s trips to D.C. may have hurt him more than helped. A Family Research Council speech here and there fed into his “pro-life crusader” image, though it was helpful for activists and lawyers to know how abortion providers assume the so-called right to privacy protects them to do as they please — and why prosecution is an appropriate response.

But given his experience in Kansas — where the abortion industry was delighted, and helped, to see him go down in his reelection bid this week — I hope to be seeing a lot more of him in Washington, asking: “If you knew there was suspected child abuse going on in Planned Parenthood clinics, would you do nothing about it?”

Back in Kansas, post-Kline, Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who endorsed Kline’s opponent and therefore played no small role in Kline’s defeat, has a responsibility to make sure the new district attorney doesn’t drop the controversial but just work prosecuting Planned Parenthood Kline took on. Do it for the children.

Phill Kline has taken some of the glimmer off the protected rose that is Planned Parenthood in America. Even if you’re for legal abortion, there are thorns there. It’s worth investigating. It’s worth covering. It’s worth rethinking federal funding — and, again, you don’t have to be a pro-life activist to think so (John McCain, are you listening?). The veil has been lifted. Thank you, Phill Kline. See you in Washington?

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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