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Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs celebrate Kansas Supreme Court reaffirming abortion rights

Emily Wales Planned Parenthood Great Plains abortion Kansas
Abortion Kansas
Posted at 7:34 PM, Jul 05, 2024

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court permanently struck down two abortion-related laws Friday in the latest blow to anti-abortion lawmakers in the state.

“The court reaffirmed what we already knew to be true — this is a fundamental right,” Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains," said. “People can make decisions about their bodies, their futures, their health care without government interference.”

The Kansas Legislature voted in 2011 to increase regulations on medical facilities that provide abortions and, four years later, made the most common and safest procedure used for second-trimester abortions illegal.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing two Overland Park physicians, challenged both laws. Neither ever went into effect because of the lawsuits and now neither ever will after the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling on July 5.

“Five years ago the Kansas Supreme Court held that the Kansas Constitution protects the right to abortion as a fundamental right, so what the court did today was it reaffirmed that right by applying that standard in a case from 2015 and also a case that the Center brought back in 2011,” Senior Staff Attorney Caroline Sacerdote with Center for Reproductive Rights’ U.S. Litigation Department said.

As part of the 2015 lawsuit, which was brought by Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that abortion is constitutionally protected as a form of personal autonomy, so the decisions handed down Friday weren’t surprising.

“It’s certainly not a shock, since both of those laws had already been enjoined for a period of time,” Wales said. “But it’s still a relief."

The Kansas Legislature has continued to pass new laws aimed at restricting or curtailing abortion. That includes a law passed in late April that requires women to divulge the reason they are seeking an abortion for research purposes.

It was set to go into effect July 1, but that law has been enjoined along with other regulations passed in recent years that seem likely to meet the same fate as the laws struck down Friday.

“Nearly every year, we see the state legislature passing more and more abortion restrictions, but we know that’s not what the public wants,” Sacerdote said. “There’s still plenty of work to do and the Center’s going to be there to ensure that abortion remains accessible, both in Kansas and we’re fighting throughout the country.”

Kansas voters soundly rejected a constitutional amendment in August 2022 that sought to make abortion illegal, but that hasn’t stopped legislators in Topeka from trying.

“We are two years out from Kansans’ vote on abortion access,” Wales said. “They said loud and clear, it’s government overreach to try to restrict and put abortion out of reach for Kansans and other patients. Yet, the legislature continues to pass restrictions that are intended to block care, to make it harder, to stigmatize patients. So, the fight’s not over, but the language in the cases today is certainly reassuring.”

In its decision, denying an appeal from Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, who are the defendants in the lawsuit, the Kansas Supreme Court reaffirmed “our conclusion that section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects a fundamental right to personal autonomy, which includes a pregnant person's right to terminate a pregnancy,” the court wrote in its opinion.

Kansas has become an oasis for women’s reproductive rights. Colorado is the only state surrounding Kansas where abortion remains legal.

“It’s heartbreaking to us that we do receive regularly referrals from other states where patients should have access to care close to home — where there was a medical need, potentially an emergency situation — and instead of getting care where they should have received it, they are referred to a state like Kansas, because there’s access,” Wales said.

Missouri voters likely will get to vote on whether to legalize abortion later this year. A trigger law that went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade banned abortion in Missouri except in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy.