Brenda Landwehr didn’t plan to talk about her abortion in public.
As a member of the Kansas House of Representatives for the past 12 years, the Republican lawmaker has a reputation for speaking her mind in support of her party’s causes. But when an abortion clinic regulation bill came to the House floor Feb. 22, no one knew that she would provide personal testimony.
“How many of you have sat down and really talked to a young woman who’s gone through with an abortion, and what she’s living with today?” she said. “I’m one of those women. I live with that pain every single day. Because I killed a baby.” Her words brought to fruition a pro-life commitment that has grown since before she entered the Church in 1991.
Landwehr, who represents Wichita, spoke recently to Register correspondent Maria Caulfield.
Were you always interested in politics?
Actually, 1994 was the first time I ever got involved in politics, outside of voting. I didn’t like the way things were going in our state, and I was talking to a lot of people, and some said, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?” As it turned out, it became kind of a calling for me. I set out to improve enforcement of child-support collection for women who were divorced or abandoned, and to curb the state’s runaway spending. We were all watching taxes go up fairly steadily. I thought it was a shame that because of this we have to have so many two-income families who were struggling just to make ends meet. My cause was for my children and my grandchildren growing up in a better world with a solid future.
So you went right for the state’s House of Representatives without ever holding a lower office?
I’m glad I didn’t know any better at the time, that I was supposed to have experience. But once I got into the race, I knew I couldn’t give up because I had all these people depending on me to win. I won the three-candidate Republican primary with almost 50% of the votes. Then I beat the Democratic incumbent with 60%. I’ve won five reelections since. I have a very good understanding of what the people in my district want. I meet with people and listen. Every two to three years, I do a survey of households in my district to get a feel for what really matters to my constituents.
What issues have you pushed?
I’m a Republican, and proud of it. I fight for lower taxes, more fiscal accountability, school choice for parents, child-support enforcement, foster care/adoption and a host of child-related issues. In 2004, I was a key sponsor of the taxpayer bill of rights that would put a cap on state spending. I also sponsored the Stan Clark Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative, which helps women in need carry their children to term. Under the bill, there is no education or counseling for abortion, and adoption is encouraged. Women get the health care and services they need to deliver a healthy baby, and if they don’t choose adoption, they receive education on child care.
Why did you decide to enter the Catholic Church?
It took me a while to finally make the decision. My husband, David, is Catholic, but when we met he had lost his way with the Church. We both had previous marriages. We dated for three years and were married in the courthouse in 1980. When our two sons came along, we decided that they would be baptized in the Catholic Church and attend Catholic school. It only made sense that what we asked of our children we should do ourselves. My husband returned to the Church, and I began to look into it. Once I had made the decision I started the annulment of my first marriage. I came in contact with some truly wonderful priests who guided me along the way. They were truly sent by God to answer my questions at the right time. I was coming from no religion at all. I was not even baptized at the time. But I took it very seriously. I told them that I would ask a lot of questions, and they said fine, just so long as I accepted the answers — and I did.
Did your husband receive an annulment also?
Yes, he did. We were married in the Church in 1991, 11 years after the courthouse wedding. My husband’s family kidded me that I received in one day what they all had to wait years to get. I was baptized, confirmed, received holy Communion and married in the Church all in one day.
What’s your view of Catholic politicians who support abortion, or say they are ‘personally opposed, but …’?
Well, we have the situation right here in Kansas where Gov. Kathleen Sebelius calls herself a Catholic and supports abortion. There are similar situations with politicians throughout the country. I don’t see how it’s possible for them to call themselves Catholic. You can’t be Catholic and support abortion. When they say they personally oppose abortion but can’t enforce their morality on others, they’re trying to have it both ways, when in fact they are disgracing the Catholic faith. My faith is part of who I am and what I do. What it comes down to is either you are a person of conviction and principle or not.
What are your views on the death penalty?
I do support the death penalty. I’ve had that discussion with my bishop, who’s a strong opponent of the death penalty.
There is a difference between innocent life, such as a baby, and not so innocent life, such as someone who has been convicted of a horrible crime. I come from a law enforcement family. My father was in law enforcement, and so were several uncles and cousins. My brother-in-law, Det. Ken Landwehr, is head of homicide in the Wichita Police Department and helped capture the BTK killer [serial killer Dennis Rader].
Why did you decide to talk about your own abortion on the House floor?
I didn’t plan to talk about it. There was a debate of a bill on clinic licensure that would have required abortion clinics to be licensed and undergo yearly inspection. While we were in the middle of debate, another legislator came down to the floor and did what we call a “gut and go,” changing the language of the bill. All surgical clinics would be included, not just abortion clinics, and there were provisions under which abortion clinics could have been exempted. I took a deep breath and told my personal experience with abortion. After I finished speaking, my first thought was, “What in the world have I done?” I left the floor for a while. I couldn’t tell you all the words that came out of my mouth, and wasn’t really aware of what I had done till people repeated what I had said back to me later.
What happened to the bill?
The weaker bill passed out of the House and went to the Senate committee. I didn’t vote for it.
What were the circumstances of your abortion?
I don’t like to talk about it. All I can say is that I had an abortion before I entered the Catholic Church and I didn’t feel it was wrong at the time. My husband had known about it before, and also my sons. We don’t keep secrets. The one person who didn’t know was my mother-in-law. She has always been a great example of someone who truly lives her religion. When I called my husband to tell him that I had talked about my abortion on the House floor, I asked him to call his mom. It was front page the next day. My mother-in-law has been incredibly understanding and supportive, and so has all of my husband’s family.
What advice would you give women who have had an abortion?
I hope more will be able to talk about it at some point. When women’s stories aren’t heard, and when they hide it, it is hard to find the support needed to heal. I hope all women will be able to find healing.
Maria Caulfield writes from