Rep. Jim Karleskint opened his mail to find Kansans for Life sent a postcards into his House district claiming he sided with Planned Parenthood in a vote on the constitutional amendment on abortion.
The Tonganoxie Republican was startled. He had cast a vote Feb. 7 in support of the amendment, which fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Karleskint was left to assume the state’s most influential anti-abortion organization reached out to his constituents in a bid to distort his legislative record in an election year.
“I was appalled. Angry, when I saw it,” said Karleskint, who had two people at church question him Sunday about the postcard and has asked KFL to identify everyone in his district who got the bogus mailer. “I want to personally talk to those people.”
Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, and Rep. Nick Hoheisel, R-Wichita, were among more than one-half dozen House Republicans falsely accused by Kansans for Life of opposing the amendment. Both confirmed their constituents received the erroneous mailer, which warned “your representative voted with Planned Parenthood.”
"It's unfortunate that this error happened, but I have a 100% pro-life voting record, and I've never voted with Planned Parenthood," Carpenter said. "If any of my constituents want to reach out to me, I can help explain what happened. But ultimately, I don't think very many of my constituents are very confused."
Hoheisel said he considered KFL’s mailers an honest mistake incapable of undercutting his reputation as an anti-abortion legislator. He said the Kansas Constitution should be modified to reverse a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court and prevent future erosion of abortion regulations in state law.
Kansans for Life lobbyist Peter Northcott said fewer than 100 postcards were mistakenly sent into districts represented by Republicans who voted for the abortion amendment. He attributed the miscue to Kansans for Life’s printer of political advocacy mailers.
“They were scattered around in various districts,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to minimize the fact that a mistake was made, at all. We’re apologetic to the individuals who supported the amendment. So again: We made a mistake, we own it, and we’re going to make sure we make things right.”
He said KFL decided to send a corrected mailer to everyone who was forwarded the original postcard. The organization also was writing letters to the editor to acknowledge the mistake in local newspapers.
Mary Wilkinson, president of Kansans for Life, sent out an email apology that said the misdirected postcards on abortion went to “households outside the eight districts that were intended.” KFL has applied pressure on four Republicans and four Democrats in hope of securing 84 votes needed for the majority required to place the amendment on statewide ballots. On Feb. 7, the vote was 80-41.
Several House Democrats said they were frustrated Kansans for Life was filling mailboxes with politically charged postcards during the 2020 legislative session. KFL was drawing from the playbook used previously by the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity, said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat who voted against the abortion amendment.
“In the Legislature, there are no fair fights. Kansans for Life isn’t any different from other groups that deployed that tactic,” Clayton said.
“It’s a lot of misinformation,” said Rep. Tom Burroughts, D-Kansas City and an opponent of the amendment. “It’s about political gain.”
Rep. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth, expressed frustration with "heavy handed" attacks by KFL that he said incorrectly portrayed his vote against the amendment. He said Kansans for Life incorrectly alleged he was an advocate of late-term abortions.
Pittman said it would be accurate to say he opposed the constitutional amendment because it failed to include an exception for cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of a mother.
"They haven't put any guardrails in," he said. "Of course they're not explaining that. By going down this other extreme, it's not exactly honest. And they're absolutely unwilling to work with anybody to change this so it can be something most Kansans would support."
In addition to his photo appearing in KFL mailers, Pittman said his photo was in a publication produced by the Catholic church. As a result, he and his family received calls from people all over Kansas, and even from people living out of state. People are so passionate about the subject, Pittman said, he has been nervous about safety of his family.
He suggested KFL take an alternate approach.
"Instead of just trying to pull out a hammer, maybe they work with us to craft something that is acceptable," Pittman said. "It's more like, 'We're going to try to bully you,' quite honestly."