On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court blocked a law banning dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure commonly used in second-trimester abortions. In its decision, the court also ruled that abortion rights are guaranteed under the state constitution, which clears the way for reproductive rights advocates to challenge an onslaught of anti-choice legislation introduced in recent years.
"Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights provides: 'All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,'" the unsigned majority opinion reads. "We are now asked: Is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy? We answer these questions, 'Yes.'"
The historic decision comes as anti-choice lawmakers, emboldened by the new conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, have aggressively introduced extreme anti-abortion legislation with the goal of undermining or overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Since January, over a dozen states have introduced measures to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected — which are unconstitutional due to Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In total, more than 250 abortion restrictions aimed at limiting access to this type of reproductive care have been introduced at the state level this year alone.
Kansas, which currently has only four abortion providers servicing the whole state, has seen an uptick of anti-abortion measures under previous Republican governors and the GOP majority in the state legislature. (Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who took office in January, is pro-choice.) Friday's decision was on the case Hodes & Nauser MDs, PA, et al v. Derek Schmidt et al, which challenged a 2015 measure known as SB95. The law banned the D&E procedure, which health providers say is the safest and most common procedure of terminating pregnancies after 15 weeks. Abortion providers say that in 2018, D&E procedures accounted for 6.9% of all abortions in the state — the majority took place in the first trimester.
Reproductive rights advocates celebrated the court's ruling. "As this decision makes clear, attempts to undermine that fundamental right by banning safe and accepted methods of abortion cannot stand," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Kansas joins nine other states whose highest courts have affirmed at the state level what the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld for more than four decades: that every woman has a right to make her own decisions about her health and family, free from political interference."