TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A leading Democratic candidate for Kansas governor accused a rival with an anti-abortion past of trying to mislead voters after he said during a televised forum Wednesday night that he would support women's rights to make their own health care decisions.

The exchange between state Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, who has a strong abortion-rights voting record, and former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty illustrated the importance of abortion as an issue for many Democrats. The third major candidate in the Aug. 7 primary race is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, also a strong supporter of abortion rights.

Svaty represented a rural, GOP-leaning central Kansas district in the state House for nearly seven years before becoming agriculture secretary in August 2009. He voted consistently for anti-abortion measures as a lawmaker but has said he would veto any new restrictions if elected governor.

Svaty went further during the forum broadcast live by television stations KWCH in Wichita and WIBW in Topeka, suggesting full support for abortion rights as a candidate for governor. While he did not explicitly label himself "pro-choice" or as a supporter of abortion rights, Svaty pledged to "trust women to make their own health decisions."

"You can never make abortion illegal," he said during the forum. "You can only make access to safe abortion illegal."

His comments led Kelly to point to Svaty's legislative record. Svaty voted for four bills to tighten state regulation of abortion clinics, at least 11 other measures and twice to override vetoes of anti-abortion measures by then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

"I think it's important that we not mislead voters on where we stand on certain issues," Kelly concluded.

Kelly called Svaty's past promise to veto new restrictions on abortion "hollow," given the raft of restrictions enacted after 2010 under Republican Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer. She said after the forum that Svaty is trying to "pivot" away from a position that is not playing well among Democrats.

"This is the first time that he's come out and said women have a right to choose and presenting himself as a pro-choice candidate," Kelly said. "That is not at all who Josh Svaty was as a legislator, nor is it what he's been as a candidate until tonight."

Svaty dismissed the criticism, saying his legislative record is not as important as what he's done in the past decade. He noted that his running mate, businesswoman and former Army helicopter pilot Katrina Lewison, supports abortion rights.

Kelly has faced criticism from Brewer and others because her choice for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Lynn Rogers, of Wichita, is a former Republican who received the endorsement of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life in a past local school board race. Rogers has an abortion-rights voting record in the Legislature, however.

"I have married a strong, independent woman in control of her own body, and then on my ticket, I have added a strong, independent woman who is in control over body," Svaty said after the forum.

Brewer stayed out of their back-and-forth but reiterated his strong support for abortion rights.

"In this day and time, I can't even imagine why we're even having this discussion because of the fact of equal rights and respecting each other," Brewer said. "I don't believe that any man has the right to tell a woman what she should or should not be doing with her body."

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