Appeals Court: Kansas Constitution Protects Right to Abortion

The landmark decision recognizing a state constitutional right to abortion in Kansas was issued on the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court recognizing the same federal right.

Dome of the Kansas state capitol with an American flag flying in front.
The Kansas Supreme Court safeguarded abortion rights, but a GOP-led amendment on the ballot threatens the protection. Shutterstock

The Kansas Court of Appeals on Friday issued a groundbreaking ruling acknowledging for the first time that the Kansas Constitution protects the right to an abortion.

The ruling came in a case challenging a Kansas law that attempts to ban most later abortions. SB 95, or the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, was set to take effect July 1. It outlaws dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, the most commonly used second-trimester abortion method. Anti-choice activists have frequently nicknamed the practice “dismemberment abortions.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the Kansas measure in June on behalf of Herbert C. Hodes and Traci Lynn Nauser, two board-certified physicians with 40 years of combined experience in comprehensive women’s health care, including abortion. Their practice is one of three that provides abortions in Kansas.

A state court blocked SB 95 before it could take effect. Attorneys for the state appealed that ruling to the Kansas Court of Appeals, which issued its decision Friday.

“Because the right to abortion is part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Kansas Constitution provides the same right to abortion that is protected under federal law,” the decision states. “The rights of Kansas women in 2016 are not limited to those specifically intended by the men who drafted our state’s constitution in 1859.”

“Today’s ruling is a landmark victory for Kansas women, whose rights and health have been under siege for far too long,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “The state Court of Appeals has rightly affirmed that Kansas women have the right to safely and legally end a pregnancy under their state constitution, free from political interference.”

The Kansas measure was the first of its kind passed in the nation. Oklahoma’s GOP-dominated legislature passed a similar restriction, following Kansas’ lead. That measure is also blocked by state court order.