Judge says 2015 abortion law violates state constitution

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A Shawnee County judge on Wednesday declared unconstitutional a 2015 Kansas abortion law under a state Supreme Court ruling that found that Kansans have a fundamental right to an abortion.

District Judge Teresa Watson found that the law, which banned some dilation and evacuation abortions, violated the state constitution’s Bill of Rights as interpreted by Kansas Supreme Court in 2019.

The state Supreme Court made that ruling on the abortion law in question and sent it back to the lower court for further review before Wednesday’s ruling.

Teresa Watson

“Banning (a dilation and evacuation) abortion is not a narrowly tailored solution to the compelling state interest defendants seek to address,” Watson wrote.

“According to the evidence before the court, it would leave no alternative for second trimester abortions other than more complicated, less reliable, less tested, and high-risk procedures,” she wrote.

The dilation and evacuation procedure was used in 408, or about 6%, of the 6,916 abortions that were reported in Kansas during 2019, a state health department report shows.

Abortion rights supporters said Watson honored the state Supreme Court ruling.

“The Kansas Supreme Court was loud and clear in 2019: abortion is protected as a fundamental right under the Kansas state constitution,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Today’s decision reaffirms that ruling and ensures that Kansans have access to the best abortion care,” Northup said in a statement.

“This ban made it a crime for doctors to use their best medical judgment. This is not about medicine, it’s purely political,” Northup said.

The court’s decision comes less than two months after the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court decision that Watson used as the basis of her decision.

Kansas voters will go to the polls in August 2022 to decide whether to ratify the amendment passed by the Legislature.

Abortion opponents said Watson’s decision reaffirms the need for the constitutional amendment.

“As we’ve been saying, the abortion industry wants unlimited, unregulated abortion —including live dismemberment abortions,” Kansans for Life lobbyist Jeanne Gawdun said.

“This is exactly why we need the Value Them Both Amendment and we urge Kansans to vote for it in August of 2022,” Gawdun said in a statement.

Abortions opponents have labeled the abortion procedure in question a “dismemberment abortion.”

The legislation defined the procedure as a physician removing the “unborn child one piece at a time” by using “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs (and) scissors” that “grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off.”

Kansas was the first state in the country to pass a ban on this type of procedure, which former Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law.

Three states – Nebraska, West Virginia and Mississippi – now have similar laws in place, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

The courts have temporarily blocked the law in four other states.

Kansas joins Alabama, Kentucky and Texas where the law has been permanently blocked.