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A lawsuit blocking Kansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on a common second-trimester method for terminating pregnancies forced an appeals court Wednesday to wrestle with whether the state constitution independently protects abortion rights.

Abortion opponents are watching the case before the full Kansas Court of Appeals closely. If the two doctors who’ve challenged the ban prevail, the state courts could find grounds to invalidate other state abortion laws — even if federal courts declare that the U.S. Constitution permits the restrictions.

During arguments from attorneys Wednesday, several judges expressed skepticism that broad language in the state constitution’s Bill of Rights about individual liberty can be interpreted as specifically protecting abortion rights. But several also questioned the state’s position that the language is only a statement of principles.

The state is appealing a Shawnee County judge’s ruling in July that blocked the law from being enforced while the doctors’ lawsuit is heard. The judge said the ban imposes an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions. He also said the state constitution protects abortion rights at least as much as the federal constitution — something higher courts haven’t previously declared.

“It’s important to have the Kansas courts recognize these rights under the Kansas Constitution,” said Janet Crepps, a senior attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the doctors.


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