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The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed on Friday that women in the state have a constitutional right to abortion care, even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. (Photo: Ashlyn Gehrett/Flickr/cc)

Amid Fears of Federal Attack on Roe, Kansas Supreme Court Guarantees Right to Abortion in the Conservative State

The court explicitly wrote that "like men," pregnant women have the "right to personal autonomy" in Kansas

Julia Conley

In what advocates called an "historic" victory for women's reproductive rights, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that women in the state have a constitutional right to abortion care regardless of federal laws.

The 6-1 ruling would protect the rights of women in the state in the event that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that affirmed American women's right to abortion, is overturned by the majority right-wing U.S. Supreme Court.

"This historic decision reaffirms what we already know: attempts to undermine abortion access are unconstitutional," tweeted the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), one of the many national groups that applauded the ruling on Friday.

The justices wrote in their ruling that the Kansas state constitution affords residents the "right to personal autonomy" and "to control one's own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination."

"Pregnant women, like men, possess these rights," the majority opinion reads.

"As this decision makes clear, attempts to undermine that fundamental right by banning safe and accepted methods of abortion cannot stand," Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of CRR, said in a statement. "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."

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, both Democratic presidential candidates, also applauded the ruling.

As several Republican-controlled states have threatened abortion rights in recent months—with Georgia, South Carolina, and Ohio among the states that have moved to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know that they are pregnant—reproductive rights advocates have called on lawmakers and state courts to affirm that women have the right to abortion.  

"This will make Kansas a haven state in the Midwest if federal laws protecting abortion are overturned or significantly limited or undercut in other states," Genevieve Scott, an attorney at CRR, told the Washington Post.

"Other state Supreme Courts should take note: This is what judicial courage looks like." —Mark Joseph Stern, SlateThe court handed down the ruling in Hodes and Nauser v. Schmidt, a 2015 case in which the state attempted to ban dilation and evacuation procedures, an abortion method which is used in 95 percent of second trimester abortions.

States including Rhode Island and Vermont have also moved recently to pass legislation guaranteeing women in the states the right to abortion care, while New York passed a law removing abortion from its criminal code entirely in anticipation of a potential attack on Roe.

"The future of Friday's landmark decision is uncertain," wrote Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. "But a majority of the court has ensured that, at least for now, the state may not exercise control over women's bodies. Other state Supreme Courts should take note: This is what judicial courage looks like."

Anti-choice activists in Kansas called Friday's ruling "extreme" and said they would seek a constitutional amendment making abortion illegal in the state—the only way the state Supreme Court's decision can be overruled. The state legislature would need a two-thirds majority in a vote on such an amendment in order to have it included on a state ballot, and a majority of Kansas voters would then need to approve of it.

While Kansas has been governed by a number of anti-choice politicians and has passed extreme anti-choice laws in recent years, nearly half of the state's residents said they support abortion rights in a 2014 Pew poll.  

"Let this ruling be a strong message to politicians everywhere who insist on passing unconstitutional and dangerous healthcare policies," said Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, on Twitter. "We will never stop fighting to safeguard our patients' access to healthcare and our right to bodily autonomy."

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