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Abortion opponents in Kansas have been bracing themselves for nearly two years for a ruling from the state's highest court that protects the right to have an abortion and potentially upends politics in a state long at the center of the national debate.

The Kansas Supreme Court is relatively liberal in a state with a Republican-dominated Legislature that has strong anti-abortion majorities.

Court watchers also are asking: Why is it taking so long for the justices to rule? No one outside the court knows for sure and the justices are not saying, as is their long-standing custom. One educated guess is that they still are wrestling with the implications of declaring that the state constitution protects abortion rights.

That was the core legal issue when the court heard attorneys' arguments in March 2017 in a major abortion lawsuit . An abortion-rights decision could allow state courts in Kansas to chart their own course on abortion and invalidate restrictions that the federal courts would uphold.

"What's the test for that?" said Jeffrey Jackson, a Washburn University of Topeka law professor. "There's any number of weird possible decisions that you can get to."

The case arises from abortion opponents' numerous legislative victories during eight years under Republican governors. Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, a strong abortion rights supporter, takes office Monday, but the Legislature emerged from last year's elections more conservative — and as anti-abortion as ever.

GOP conservatives' power in the Legislature surged following "Summer of Mercy" protests in 1991 against the late Dr. George Tiller's clinic in Wichita, among a few in the U.S. known to do late-term abortions. An anti-abortion zealot shot Tiller to death in 2009.

Legislators debate abortion annually. Kansas recorded its lowest number of abortions in 30 years in 2017, fewer than 6,800 — 46 percent less than the peak of more than 12,400 in 1999.


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