|Kansas’ highest court ruled for the first time Friday that the state constitution protects abortion rights and blocked a first-in-the-nation ban on a common second trimester method for ending pregnancies.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling represented a big victory for abortion rights supporters in a state with a Republican-controlled Legislature hostile to their cause. It comes with other, GOP-controlled states moving to ban most abortions in direct challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortions across the nation.
The Kansas decision prevents the state from enforcing a 2015 law that could have greatly limited second trimester abortions. But even worse for abortion opponents, the ruling clears the way for legal challenges to a string of abortion restrictions approved in recent years by state lawmakers under past Republican governors.
The court said vague language protecting “equal and inalienable rights” in the first section of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights grants a “natural right of personal autonomy” that includes the right to “control one’s own body.” Because that right is independent of the U.S. Constitution, Kansas courts could strike down restrictions that have been upheld by the federal courts.
“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 court’s unsigned majority opinion said.
Justices ruled 6-1 on the language in state constitution. Justice Caleb Stegall, the only appointee of a conservative Republican governor, declared in his dissenting opinion that the ruling “fundamentally alters the structure of our government” to “arbitrarily grant a regulatory reprieve” for abortion.
The ruling immediately prompted abortion opponents to call for amending the state constitution. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who took office in January, is a strong abortion-rights supporter, but the Legislature still has solid anti-abortion majorities.
“The liberal, activist Supreme Court showed just how out of touch they are with Kansas values,” Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, said in a statement issued minutes after the decision. “We understand that life is sacred, beginning at conception, and we must always stand and defend the most vulnerable among us, the unborn.”