Kansas' top court rejects ban on common abortion procedure

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Kansas' highest court on Friday permanently barred the state from enforcing a law banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, saying the ban violated the right to abortion under the state constitution that the court had recognized in 2019.

The 5-1 ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court, with one of the seven justices not participating, leaves in place a lower court order blocking the law, which banned a procedure known as dilation and extraction with a narrow exception for medical emergencies.

The law was challenged shortly after it was passed in 2015 by a group of abortion providers who argued that the state constitution guaranteed a right to abortion. The Kansas Supreme Court's 2019 ruling agreed with the providers that there was such a right and upheld a preliminary order in their favor, but sent the case back to the lower court to be litigated more fully.

The state appealed to the Supreme Court again after the lower court issued a final ruling for the providers.

"We stand by our conclusion that ... the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects a fundamental right to personal autonomy, which includes a pregnant person's right to terminate a pregnancy," Justice Eric Rosen wrote for the majority on Friday.

Justice Caleb Stegall dissented. The conservative judge, who had also dissented from the 2019 ruling, said the constitution's plain text and original meaning did not include a right to abortion.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, called the ruling "an immense victory for the health, safety and dignity of people in Kansas and the entire Midwestern region, where millions have been cut off from abortion access."

"The decision is as disappointing as it is unsurprising," Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican whose office defended the law, said in a statement. "When the word liberty was included in the constitution, no one thought they were creating a right to an abortion."

Abortion is legal in Kansas up to 22 weeks. Kansas voters in August 2022 rejected a measure to remove abortion rights from the state constitution.

The vote came after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark Roe v. Wade precedent, which had established a right to abortion nationwide, allowing many Republican-led states to ban or restrict abortion and triggering a wave of litigation.

Kansas has become a destination for women seeking abortions in nearby states that have banned it, including Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Rod Nickel)