Kansas Supreme Court Affirms Abortion Rights, Strikes Down Restrictions

“This is an immense victory for the health, safety, and dignity of people in Kansas and the entire Midwestern region, where millions have been cut off from abortion access,” said one advocate.

By Jessica Corbett. Published 7-5-2024 by Common Dreams

Women’s March in Topeka, KS, 2017. Photo: mmrogne/flickr/CC

Reproductive rights defenders on Friday cheered a pair of Kansas Supreme Court decisions reaffirming the right to abortion and striking down various restrictions—rulings expected to impact people beyond the Midwestern state, given how many patients must now travel for care.

“The state devoted much of its brief to inviting us to reverse our earlier ruling in this case that the Kansas Constitution protects a right to abortion. We decline the invitation,” Justice Eric Rosen wrote in the decision against Senate Bill 95, which outlawed a common abortion procedure for second-trimester pregnancies called dilation and evacuation (D&E).

Rosen was referring to the court’s 2019 ruling that “Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights affords protection of the right of personal autonomy,” which “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 justice wrote Friday that “S.B. 95 does not further patient safety, it compromises patient safety,” noting that “as the district court found and the state did not contest, S.B. 95 eliminates a safe and common medical procedure and leaves patients subject to procedures that are rarely used, are untested, and are sometimes more dangerous or impossible.”

The court’s other new ruling was about what critics call targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP) policies. Both decisions were 5-1—with Justice Stegall Caleb dissenting and Justice K.J. Wall not participating—and followed Kansas voters rejecting a proposed anti-choice amendment to the state constitution in August 2022.

“Kansas voters made it loud and clear in 2022: The right to abortion must be protected. Now the Kansas Supreme Court has decisively reaffirmed that the state constitution protects abortion as a fundamental right,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was involved with both cases.

“This is an immense victory for the health, safety, and dignity of people in Kansas and the entire Midwestern region, where millions have been cut off from abortion access,” Northup added. “We will continue our fight to ensure Kansans can access the essential healthcare they need in their home state.”

The anti-choice ballot measure’s failure two years ago came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing supermajority reversed Roe v. Wade with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—which bolstered GOP efforts to further restrict reproductive rights at the state level, forcing patients to more frequently travel for abortion care.

Kansas allows abortion care up until 22 weeks of pregnancy and has seen an influx of healthcare refugees from states that have imposed bans. The Guttmacher Institute said last month that “in Kansas, clinic numbers increased by 50% (from four to six) between 2020 and 2023, and the number of abortions rose by 152% (an increase of 12,440).”

Despite the fresh wins in court, the broader battle for reproductive freedom continues in Kansas. As KMUW reported Friday:

Several new abortion laws took effect in Kansas earlier this week, but one of them—a law requiring doctors to ask patients getting abortions their reason for doing so—is being challenged in court. A Johnson County judge said Monday that doctors could add the law to a larger lawsuit they brought against a handful of older state abortion restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period. The judge agreed to temporarily block the older laws while the case proceeds.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment told providers it will “not, for now” enforce the abortion reasons law, providers said Monday. The health department has not responded to requests seeking to confirm that.

The Center for Reproductive Rights noted Friday that it “is currently representing abortion providers in another ongoing challenge to several onerous restrictions including a law forcing providers to falsely tell their patients that a medication abortion can be ‘reversed,’ an unproven claim not based on medicine or science.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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