Friday, April 26, 2019

Kansas Upholds Woman's Right To Choose

The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the right to choose 

Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights provides: "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We are now asked: Is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman's right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy? We answer these questions, "Yes."

We conclude that, through the language in section 1, the state's founders acknowledged that the people had rights that preexisted the formation of the Kansas government. There they listed several of these natural, inalienable rights—deliberately choosing language of the Declaration of Independence by a vote of 42 to 6. Included in that limited category is the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one's own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy. Although not absolute, this right is fundamental.

Accordingly, the State is prohibited from restricting this right unless it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest. And we thus join many other states' supreme courts that recognize a similar right under their particular constitutions.

Finally, we conclude that the plaintiffs Herbert C. Hodes, M.D., Traci Lynn Nauser, M.D., and Hodes & Nauser, MDs, P.A. (Doctors) have shown they are substantially likely to ultimately prevail on their claim that Senate Bill 95 violates these principles by severely limiting access to the safest procedure for second-trimester abortions. As a result, we affirm the trial court's injunction temporarily enjoining the enforcement of S.B. 95 and remand to that court for full resolution on the merits.

Biles, J. concurred

But to be clear from the outset, I join the other members of this court who unanimously agree section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights provides all Kansans, including pregnant women, with state-based, judicially enforceable protections against unwarranted government intrusion. Some cast this as a right to abortion, others as a limitation on state police powers, but the bottom line is the same: those challenging government conduct as an unlawful restriction on their protected section 1 interests may do so in a Kansas courtroom. The difference in our approaches is the standard used to measure where our state Constitution draws the line...

More disturbingly, consider how the dissent's standard perfectly aligns with this notorious passage from our American caselaw:

"In view of the general declarations of the legislature and the specific findings of the Court, obviously we cannot say as a matter of law that the grounds do not exist, and if they exist they justify the result. We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizen for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. [Citation omitted.] Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Buck, 274 U.S. at 207.

...All agree this court should interpret the Kansas Constitution in accordance with the framers' intent and the values expressed by its words. Both the majority and the dissent devote nearly 108 pages discussing historical lineage for those words. And it is a demanding read. I hope those reviewing my colleagues' history lessons will accept the exercise for what it obviously is—hard working judges trying to honestly answer the questions presented in good faith. But for me, an originalism search gets us only so far when divining meaning for words with such obvious open-ended qualities as "liberty" or "inalienable natural rights." The historical back-and-forth really just boils down to how much weight is given one selected fact over another.

I believe our framers had to understand this interpretative dynamic and picked those particular words because they require contemporary context. This means we must apply what "liberty" and "inalienable natural rights" mean in the real world today for a pregnant woman. In doing so, that necessarily demonstrates meaningful limitations on the government's ability to elbow its way into the decisions she must make concerning her pregnancy.

The district court did not abuse its discretion by temporarily enjoining S.B. 95's enforcement pending trial.

STEGALL, J., dissenting:

This case is not only about abortion policy—the most divisive social issue of our day—it is more elementally about the structure of our republican form of government. Which is to say, this case is about the proper conditions for just rule. At bottom, this case is about finding and drawing the sometimes elusive line between law and arbitrary exercises of power. Here we venture onto a battlefield as old as politics itself. And as we argue about the structure of government—and ultimately delineate the proper conditions for just rule—we must never forget that we are also actively engaged in ruling.

The structural idea that gave birth to Kansas as a political community, which has achieved consensus support across most of our history, is that the proper conditions for just rule are met via participatory consent to secure and promote the common welfare.

Today, a majority of this court dramatically departs from this consensus. Today, we hoist our sail and navigate the ship-of-state out of its firm anchorage in the harbor-of common good and onto the uncertain waters of the sea-of-fundamental-values. Today we issue the most significant and far-reaching decision this court has ever made.

The majority's decision is so consequential because it fundamentally alters the structure of our government to magnify the power of the state—all while using that power to arbitrarily grant a regulatory reprieve to the judicially privileged act of abortion. In the process, the majority abandons the original public meaning of section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights and paints the interest in unborn life championed by millions of Kansans as rooted in an ugly prejudice. For these reasons, I dissent.

Oral argument video linked here. The argument is 2 1/2 hours. (Mike Frisch)

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