A priest friend from our neighboring Sunflower State once quipped that “at one time you could legally get an abortion in Kansas, but you couldn’t get a drink.” It’s funny, albeit in a macabre way, because it’s literally true. And it helps explain the peculiar culture that has produced a vendetta ethics trial against former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.
Kansas was one of the states that legalized some forms of abortion even before 1973’s Roe v’ Wade ruling, and yet, you could not get a drink at a public bar or restaurant until 1987. While the rest of the country suffered under prohibition from 1919 to 1933, Kansas had full prohibition from 1881 until 1948. Even when Kansas’ prohibition ended, the state continued to ban on-site liquor sales until 1987. In the 1970s, Kansas even enforced this prohibition on Amtrak trains travelling through the state and planes flying through Kansas airspace. To this date, Kansas has not ratified the 21st Amendment.
Neighboring Missouri, however, is and has been an alcohol free-for-all zone and this has led to some interesting cross-state arrangements. Kansas City, Missouri is separated from Johnson County, Kansas by State Line Rd. (I should insert here that these revelations are for the benefit of my non-Midwest readers – which is most of you.) A house on one side of State Line Road is in Kansas, while its neighbor across the street is in Missouri.
Consequently, there is a very beautiful golf course on the Kansas side of State Line Road, while its original club house (and bar) is across the street in Missouri. A little down the road is a Hy-Vee supermarket in Kansas and across the street is the Hy-Vee liquor store in Missouri.
On the flip side, there is not a single surgical abortion clinic in Kansas City, Missouri or anywhere else in Western Missouri, while Kansas is home to some of the briskest abortion businesses in the country. Kansas ranks 38th among the states in overall tourism, but is number one in abortion tourism. Fully half the abortions performed in Kansas are on women from other states and countries. The situation is not because Kansas has unusually lax abortion laws, but because abortionists have unusually strong protection from the Kansas judiciary, and until Sam Brownback was sworn in last month, from the governor’s mansion.
So how could the same culture produce Carrie Nation and Kathleen Sebelius; a joyless sobriety crusade in one era and a mean-streaked crusade to punish any and all oversight of even late-term abortion in another? Is there something tying them together?
I got a hint of a connection at then-Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius’ birthday party in 2007. It was held at the Blue Room in Kansas City, Missouri’s historic 18th & Vine jazz district (Kansans still go to Missouri to party). I wasn’t invited, of course. I was outside observing a motley crew of protesting trad Catholics praying their rosaries and black Baptist preachers decrying the abortion-genocide of African-Americans.
Why would anybody protest the governor’s birthday party? Well, it was double-billed as a Planned Parenthood fundraiser and PPFA head Cecile Richards, as well as PP Johnson County abortuary manager Peter Brownlie, were there to fete the governor who had done so much to thwart any oversight of their business.
I’d just arrived in Kansas City. Back in San Francisco, if you were to observe a gathering of abortion activists you’d see a lot of piercings and tats and persons with uncertain gender identity and expression – a lot of angry yelling, contorted faces and bizarre behavior. Oddballs.
But here, a steady stream of perfectly shining expensive cars and SUVs dropped off the Planned Parenthood supporters, as an army of white-coated attendants escorted them into the Blue Room and parked their cars. I remember my growing astonishment as the demographic of the party became clearer with each new arrival. Almost to a one, the Planned Parenthood partiers were impeccably dressed, late middle-aged women with domes of respectable gray hair. Any one of them could have been mistaken for the governor.
Here were the elite matrons of Johnson County; not oddballs at all, but the perfect pictures of respectability and propriety.
Let me beg-off bashing Kansas for a moment (It’s sport here). Truthfully, the demographic that attended Kathleen Sebelius’ Planned Parenthood birthday bash exists in well-off suburbs across the country where, for some (not all), upward mobility, social-climbing and respectability are the chief ends in life.
I know this group, because many of them were the parents of my peers in well-off suburban Marin County, California (the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge). And I know what they do to their daughters to keep up the facade of a perfect lifestyle.
Nearly every abortion I’m aware of among my friends and acquaintances took place under solid pressure from parents – usually mom. These parents had no time, inclination or interest in raising their daughters to value chastity, however.
One friend had three abortions by the time she was a Freshman in college. She wrote me about it explaining that her mother dragged her to the clinic each time. I don’t know why she wrote, except to express pain. I was too young and stupid to offer any concrete help. The same mom had nothing to offer about her daughter’s sexuality.
An old girlfriend cajoled me to go to a clinic with her to rescue a friend. Her friend’s older sister had called to say her mother was dragging the younger sister down to the clinic and she didn’t want to go. The sister wouldn’t intervene because the father told her he’d kick her out of the house if she did – a nice, well-off, respectable suburban house. When we got there, mom and dad were on either arm of this hysterically crying young woman pulling her into the clinic. The dad, later that day, after coercing the abortion of his grandchild, kicked his elder daughter out of the house for alerting anyone.
Anybody who’s spent time outside an abortion clinic has witnessed that scene time and again.
Upward mobility and the creation of a respectable, suburban identity were the driving factors in these parents’ decision making, not morality. Threaten that carefully crafted identity with a pregnant daughter though, and it’s back to being trash – something that wouldn’t be tolerated. And in this is the kernel of why Kansas elites hate Phill Kline.
There are any number of anti-abortion politicians in Kansas and none of them are hated with the vehemence directed at Phill Kline. He didn’t propose pro-life legislation or prosecute a doctor without a license. There would have been no vendetta for that. I even suspect that if he’d somehow shut down Tiller’s Wichita practice, there would be less hatred toward him than for what he actually did.
What he actually did was to subpoena medical records at the Johnson County Planned Parenthood. He had reason to do so and the records suggest many violations of Kansas law.
But these were patient records, and even though the names were redacted, the barest chance that anyone, even just Phill Kline, might divine the identity of clients there sent chills down the spines of not a few well-off suburbanites desperate to defend a facade of respectability and propriety.
Carrie Nation was insane and a publicity hound. But I suspect there’s something related in the overwrought desire to forge tidiness and respectability that might lead someone to take a hatchet to a perfectly good bottle of bourbon or to destroy the life of a man who threatens to turn a mirror on you?