KS Appellate split: strict construction analysis vs fantasy
On the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Kansas pro-lifers groaned when they heard that the state Court of Appeals had tied 7-7, meaning that a lower court’s ruling would stand and, with it, a temporary injunction on our historic ban on dismemberment abortions. An appeal is being quickly drafted by the office of Attorney General Derek Schmidt to the state Supreme Court.
The “Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act” became law in Kansas in April, just days before Oklahoma enacted the law. The Act prohibits one specific method of abortion—a torturous, piece by piece, dismemberment of a living unborn child.
Shawnee District Court Judge Larry Hendricks was the first judge in the nation to review the matter. Hendricks so much loved the abortion attorneys’ arguments (inventing a previously undiscovered fundamental right to abortion in the 1859 Kansas Constitution) that he had them pen his temporary order for injunction! (Didn’t know judges could do that, did you?)
After the state appealed Hendricks’ injunction, all 14 members of the Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides on December 9.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs (a father and daughter team of abortionists) asserted that Article 1 and 2 of the Bill of Rights of the state Constitution expressly contained a liberty right to abortion which must be interpreted the way the due process section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was interpreted in Roe v Wade.
Seven appellate judges, in the dissent authored by Chief Judge Thomas Malone, used careful reasoning and a strict constructionist approach to opine that there is no ‘independent state-law right to abortion” and “there is nothing in the text or history of Articles 1 and 2 …to lead this court to conclude that these provisions were intended to guarantee a right to abortion.”
Chief Malone’s dissent notes that the Kansas Bill of Right predates the Fourteenth Amendment and to accept “such a broad reading” of the Bill of Rights, which “does not contain the same language” as the Fourteenth Amendment and “was ratified under different historical circumstances, would go well beyond the apparent intent of its framers.”
As the Attorney General defense team has consistently argued, abortion in Kansas was outlawed– even before the state bill of rights was ratified— and broadly criminalized thereafter except to prevent the death of the mother in an emergency.
Malone’s dissent highlights the essential tension, “[A]bortion places the pregnant women’s liberty interest directly at odd with the unborn child’s right to life. The balancing of these interests is a matter of public policy” which is under “the charge of the state legislature, not the court.” Moreover,
“The proper question to ask and answer is what rights the makers and adopters of the instrument intended to protect…not what rights today’s judges would like to see in our state constitution.”
The other half of the Court of Appeals does not subscribe to judicial restraint and agrees with the Hendricks ruling. Six of them united behind an opinion written by Judge Steve Leben. They say that Articles 1 & 2 of the Bill of Rights are sufficiently equivalent to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In a separate concurrence affirming the Hendricks ruling, Judge Gordon Atcheson distinguishes his support from the Leben opinion. He finds that Article 1 and 2 provide even greater protection for abortion than the Fourteenth Amendment. And this is a case study in rhetoric over legal analysis.
For example, Judge Atcheson refers to the dismemberment of an unborn child as if it is merely “unaesthetic,” while (incorrectly) asserting that the state cannot prohibit a barbaric abortion procedure. He wrote, “The government cannot impose upon an essential right because some exercise of the right may be unaesthetic or even repulsive to some people.”
He ignores the example that horrific partial-birth abortions are illegal, as upheld in the 2007 Gonzales ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, but that may be because he disdains it so much: “Women have a right protected in Article 1 to exercise reproductive freedom as an essential component of their self-determination. To suggest otherwise simply inflates that women are flighty creatures in constant need of guidance and protection to be supplied either by menfolk or, in this case, a meddlesome government … That sort of paternalistic claptrap animates the majority opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart.”
Another of the examples of Judge Atcheson’s pro-abortion feminism: “Although the general societal and legal acceptance of gender equality hasn’t yet reached every quarter, Article 1 doesn’t bend to the obdurate views of those who would cling to the days when white men were the acknowledged masters of the realm.”
The caliber of Judge Atcheson’s writing and the extreme reach taken in the Judge Leben group opinion are distressing. The state of Kansas defense team has consistently maintained that the notion that there exists a state constitutional right to abortion “is a fantasy.”
Half of the appellate court had the wisdom to recognize it.