Kansas Justices Find State Constitution Protects Abortion Rights

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – In a decision that has taken more than two years, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state constitution protects the right to have an abortion.

The ruling stems from a challenge from two abortion providers to a law passed in 2015 that banned an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. The Kansas Unborn Child Protection law barred the practice with the exception of saving the life of the mother.

Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks blocked the law in July 2015, stating in his ruling that the Kansas Bill of Rights protects the “fundamental right to abortion.” The state appealed the decision to the Kansas Court of Appeals where the appellate court in January 2016 upheld the ruling.

In the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, the justices said the state constitution gives Kansans the right of personal autonomy, “which includes the ability to control one’s own body.”

“This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, the State is prohibited from restricting this right unless it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest.”

The ruling means that abortion procedures will still be protected under the state constitution even if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses Roe v. Wade. The abortion providers, Herbert Hodes and Dr. Traci Nauser used a peculiar strategy, arguing that the state constitution rather than the U.S. Constitution granted the right to abortion based on the first two sections of the Kansas Bill of Rights.

The state argued that abortion was not a right because the procedure was mostly illegal at the time the state constitution was written in 1859.

Several abortion supporters and opponents made their feelings known about the ruling Friday morning. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who supports abortion rights, quickly released a statement shortly after the ruling.

“While federal law has long guaranteed every woman the right to make their own medical decisions in consultation with their healthcare providers, I’m pleased that the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision now conclusively respects and recognizes that right under Kansas law as well,” Kelly said.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains also issued a statement supporting the decision.

“We applaud the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision today affirming every Kansan’s right to safe, legal abortion,” said spokesperson Rachel Sweet.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he opposed the ruling and emphasized the need for stricter federal abortion laws.

“An unborn child is a distinct human being and our laws should defend its right to life,” Moran said in a statement. “This decision underscores the urgent need for federal legislation that will protect innocent life at all stages, and I will continue working to see such legislation achieved.”

The results of Friday’s ruling could lead to a proposed amendment to the state constitution when the Legislature reconvenes to finish out the 2019 session. Though Gov. Kelly would veto any such measure, the Kansas House and Senate would likely have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

If that happens, the amendment would go before voters later this year.

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