Kansas Supreme Court Passes Landmark Decision Protecting Women’s Reproductive Rights, Citing Constitutional Guarantee of Personal Autonomy

Reproductive Rights Belatina
Anti-Trump demonstrator protests at abortion rights rally in Chicago, Illinois, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Kansas, one of the most politically conservative states in the country, just issued a landmark decision on abortion rights that may help protect the reproductive rights of women all around the country. In a 6-1 decision, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of two doctors who had waged a lawsuit against Senate Bill 95, a 2015 bill that banned a safe and common procedure used to terminate second trimester pregnancies for most mothers.

The decision had bipartisan judicial support for the doctors’ argument that, in banning the procedure known as “dilation and evacuation”, the bill was in violation of “inalienable natural rights” afforded to all Kansans — yes, even the pregnant ones — by the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights. “While federal law has long guaranteed every woman the right to make their own medical decisions in consultation with their health care providers, I’m pleased that the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision now conclusively respects and recognizes that right under Kansas law as well,” Laura Kelly, the Democratic governor of Kansas, said in a statement on Friday.

In the majority opinion, the judges wrote that the guaranteed right of personal autonomy covers a Kansan’s “ability to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination,” which includes a woman’s ability to “make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life.” The judges specifically point out that this covers a woman’s decision to continue or terminate her pregnancy. CNN cited the fact that nine other states have also passed bans on dilation and evacuation, but most of them have been blocked in the courts; only Mississippi and West Virginia have been able to uphold this type of abortion legislation so far.

The majority opinion also expressed an overarching interpretation of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights that guided the decision of the judges, four of whom were nominated by a Democratic governor and two whom were nominated by Republicans. They felt that the preservation of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were given precedence over the changing tides of the government, lest there be a compelling reason to pass restrictive legislation. The Kansas City Star emphasized, for example, that the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision does not make abortions legal in any and all cases; late-term abortion restrictions are still deemed constitutional, just as there are restrictions on free speech and gun rights.

Though the state’s Supreme Court made a nearly unanimous decision on the case, antiabortion activists in congress were quick to mobilize against the ruling, threatening amendments to the state constitution in order to protect abortion restrictions, which would require a two-third majority to pass in congress. According to the Washington Post, antiabortion advocates worry that the latest ruling will also nullify the legislation that requires women to receive an ultrasound prior to the procedure (which is medically unnecessary and an added cost), to receive counseling whether or not the patient requests it, and to get parental consent as a minor. The Post cited the state treasurer’s impassioned antiabortion statement after the decision, calling last Friday “one of the darkest days in our state’s history.”