A Kansas Senate debate on Wednesday between pro-choice independent Greg Orman and anti-choice Republican Sen. Pat Roberts featured a heated exchange about abortion.
Orman, who could unseat the long-serving incumbent Roberts, has been called a “political enigma.” It’s unclear whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans in the Senate if elected, though many of his policy stances are not in line with current GOP views.
His position on abortion rights, however, is clear.
“I trust that the women of Kansas are smart and they can make decisions on their own about their own reproductive health,” Orman said in response to a debate question about whether the state’s forced ultrasounds should be implemented nationwide.
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When asked in a follow-up question whether he is pro-choice or “pro-life,” Orman answered, “pro-choice,” without hesitation or qualification.
He later pointed out that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts called abortion “settled law” during his confirmation hearing, and that America needs to move on and discuss other critical issues.
“I think we spend a whole lot of time in this country talking about this issue, and we have spent a whole lot of time over the last couple of decades talking about it and I think it prevents us from talking about other important issues,” Orman said.
Sen. Roberts, in an emotional response, called Orman’s remarks “unconscionable.” He took issue with the idea that lawmakers should “get past” the abortion discussion.
“Get past the rights of the unborn?” he said.
“Well, it isn’t settled law, because we had a great fight over Hobby Lobby, didn’t we?” Roberts said. “And the rights of individual business people to say that, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not going to accept Obamacare because it strikes at our religious beliefs,’ and Hobby Lobby won.”
A national Tea Party group is scheduled to hold a news conference with Sen. Roberts on Monday, but leaders did not say whether the group would endorse Roberts.
“It will be an announcement,” Tea Party Express Executive Director Taylor Budowich told the Wichita Eagle in an interview.
A Tea Party Express endorsement of Roberts would be noteworthy, since the group had earlier thrown its weight behind Roberts’ primary challenger, Milton Wolf, who had attacked the longtime Kansas senator for voting to raise the debt ceiling, supporting Congressional earmarks, and endorsing former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor.
The Tea Party-backed Wolf, a doctor, found himself in hot political water during the Republican primary election when it was revealed that he had posted his patients’ X-rays on Facebook with mocking commentary.
Wolf came far closer than expected to beating Roberts in a bruising campaign that, like many races this year, pitted an insurgent Tea Party candidate against a supposedly “establishment” Republican incumbent whose views are just as staunchly conservative as the challenger’s, especially on choice issues.
Orman, who had a comfortable lead in early September, was slightly ahead of Roberts in a poll by Public Policy Polling released Monday. The Kansas race is one of several that could determine whether or not Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in November.