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Kansas Supreme Court rules against strict abortion laws amidst an influx of patients

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled against two laws restricting abortion. It's a major development because Kansas has had an influx of people seeking abortions, coming in from surrounding states that have more restrictive laws. Rose Conlon, who's with our member station KMUW in Wichita joins us now. Rose, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSE CONLON, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Please tell us about the laws the court struck down.

CONLON: One law banned a common second-trimester abortion method called dilation and evacuation. And the second one imposed extra licensure restrictions on clinics and doctors that provide abortions that go above and beyond restrictions on other medical providers. Neither law was in effect. Both had been blocked by lower courts, but the decision could affect future rulings on abortion in the state. And the Kansas Republican attorney general had asked the state Supreme Court to overturn those lower decisions and reinstate the laws.

SIMON: Now, I understand the court found that both laws violated the Kansas state constitution. How so?

CONLON: Yeah. So the majority opinion said that the restrictions violate the constitution's, quote, "fundamental right to personal autonomy, which includes a pregnant person's right to terminate a pregnancy." That interpretation actually goes back to a ruling from 2019 when the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a temporary block on the dilation and evacuation ban. Yesterday, they said they stand by it. And for advocates, that's giving them some hope that the court might look more critically at other anti-abortion laws that they're currently challenging. So that includes a 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that providers give patients misinformation about abortions, like disproven claims that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer and future premature deliveries.

SIMON: Rose, why is this ruling so significant both for Kansans and for people who live in nearby states?

CONLON: It's a big deal because so many people are traveling to Kansas for abortions in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. So, you know, the state has emerged as a leading abortion access point for people living in states with severe abortion restrictions and bans. Over two-thirds of patients at Kansas clinics are from other states, and over half are from Texas alone. And just to put this in perspective, the Guttmacher Institute, which studies abortion access, recently reported that about 20,000 abortions were performed in Kansas last year, and that's over 150% increase from 2020.

SIMON: Rose, what's been the reaction from people on all sides of the question?

CONLON: So reproductive rights groups are breathing a sigh of relief. They weren't necessarily expecting the court to rule against them. But if that had happened, it would have signaled that the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature might be able to do more to restrict abortion rights going forward. Abortion opponents are not happy. They say the opinions overturn, quote, "basic health and safety standards for abortion facilities," which isn't true, but is a recurring concern that they've raised. And they also see the state's role as what they call an abortion destination as really harmful and an existential threat to their values.

SIMON: Rose Conlon with KMUW in Wichita, thanks so much for being with us.

CONLON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rose Conlon
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.