In Utah and Kansas, state courts flex power over new laws regulating abortion post-Roe

Aug 7, 2023, 10:19 PM | Updated: Aug 8, 2023, 4:56 pm

FILE - People attend an abortion-rights rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City after the...

FILE - People attend an abortion-rights rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022. State courts in Utah and Kansas are planning to hear arguments Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in legal challenges involving new abortion laws since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — State courts have become hot spots in the national abortion debate, with Utah’s top court and a Kansas judge considering Tuesday whether their state constitutions require them to block or invalidate laws regulating the procedure more than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson transformed what was long a debate over the U.S. Constitution, immediately limiting the pathways abortion advocates could take in challenging restrictions from one state to the next.

“State courts are incredibly important in this moment when patients are having difficulty accessing abortion because many states have banned it entirely so patients are traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles,” Alice Wang, a Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, told reporters after arguing providers’ case in a courtroom in the Kansas City area.

In Kansas, the legal battle is over how providers dispense abortion medications, what they must tell patients and a required 24-hour wait for an abortion after information required by the state is provided to the patient.

Questions about those restrictions hinge on the state constitution — and on the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 decision declaring bodily autonomy a “fundamental” right that protects abortion access. Kansas doesn’t ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy.

Judge K. Christopher Jayaram was skeptical of parts of those requirements, including provisions in place for years, but did not rule from the bench. He repeatedly questioned an attorney for the anti-abortion Alliance Defending Freedom who was arguing for the state.

The new Kansas law, which took effect July 1, requires providers to tell patients a medication abortion can be stopped once it is started with a regimen that major medical groups call unproven and potentially dangerous. While the state is free to regulate an area of medical “uncertainty,” Jayaram told the alliance’s attorney, Denise Harle, that the medical literature he’s read suggests there’s no good, valid study supporting the regimen.

“I’m concerned about that,” he said.

The state and the providers mutually agreed that the new law wouldn’t be enforced at least until Jayaram decides whether to block the law and the other requirements while a trial of the providers’ lawsuit against it goes forward.

Harle said those requirements don’t limit bodily autonomy but bolster it by giving patients more information.

“It’s not a right to unregulated abortion,” she said in court.

In Utah, the state’s attorneys want the state Supreme Court to overrule a lower court’s decision to put a 2020 state law banning most abortions on hold. They argued the “original public meaning” of the state constitution drafted in the Mormon Pioneer era in 1895 didn’t guarantee a right to abortion.

“There is no constitutional text, history or common law tradition that can support it, and yet the state’s law has been under way for one year and 28 days, allowing thousands of abortions to proceed,” said Taylor Meehan, Utah’s outside counsel, echoing an argument Kansas made before the 2019 decision of its highest court.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah’s attorney Camila Vega argued that the right to an abortion aligned with the court’s prior rulings on the Utah Constitution, fell under a broadly defined right to bodily autonomy and ensured other protected rights could be equally guaranteed to men and women.

In Kansas, providers argued that bans in other states only heighten the harm caused by the state’s restrictions because patients are traveling much farther for care. Outside the courthouse in Salt Lake City, Planned Parenthood of Utah CEO Kathryn Boyd said if the trigger law takes effect, “Thousands will be forced to flee their communities for basic health care or carry pregnancies to term against their will.”

The Kansas and Utah cases reflect how the impact of the overturning of Roe remains unsettled 13 months later. Republican-controlled legislatures, including in Utah and Kansas, have since pushed to tighten laws surrounding abortion, prompting fierce court battles from the doctors and clinics providing them.

Kansas voters scrambled the national debate last year by decisively rejecting a proposed change in the state constitution sought by GOP lawmakers to say it doesn’t grant a right to abortion. Anti-abortion groups warned that without the change — and its rebuke of the Kansas Supreme Court — the state’s existing restrictions could fall.

Kentucky also voted to protect abortion rights last year, and Ohio voters on Tuesday went to the polls to vote on requirements to amend the state’s constitution.

Utah is one of at least five states in which laws restricting abortion have been put on hold amid litigation. In Utah, the result is that abortion isn’t banned until the 18th week of pregnancy, but lawmakers subsequently passed additional legislation striking licensing provisions for abortion clinics from state code in an effort to phase them out.

In arguments Tuesday, Utah’s majority-women Supreme Court appeared skeptical of the state’s claims that the lower court abused its power in putting an abortion law on hold last year. The panel probed Utah’s attorneys about arguments that the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliate had not raised “serious issues” enough to merit delaying the law.

In the days or weeks ahead, the Utah justices are expected to decide whether to maintain the lower court’s hold on the abortion law or take the matter into their own hands due to the state constitutional questions at stake.


Metz reported from Salt Lake City, Utah. Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Follow Metz at and Hanna at .

National News

Alyssa Milligan participates in the Bike Ride Across Wilson County in conjunction with the Tennesse...

Associated Press

New cars are supposed to be getting safer. So why are fatalities on the rise?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Alyssa Milligan was someone who intuitively knew when another person needed help, encouragement or a kind word. Although she was new to Tennessee, the 23-year old physical therapy student, whose mother called her “Sweet Alyssa,” had already made many close connections, especially within the tight-knit cycling community around Nashville — before […]

5 hours ago

Bridge to Calculus summer program participants, from left, Steven Ramos, Kevin Dang, Kevin Tran, Pe...

Associated Press

America’s poor math skills raise alarms over global competitiveness

BOSTON (AP) — Like a lot of high school students, Kevin Tran loves superheroes, though perhaps for different reasons than his classmates. “They’re all insanely smart. In their regular jobs they’re engineers, they’re scientists,” said Tran, 17. “And you can’t do any of those things without math.” Tran also loves math. This summer, he studied […]

6 hours ago

A no-trespassing sign hangs on a gate outside a private property, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Pomf...

Associated Press

Leaf-peeping influencers are clogging a Vermont backroad. The town is closing it

POMFRET, Vt. (AP) — Social media influencers take note: You won’t be able to snap that fall foliage selfie at a popular Vermont spot. The town has temporarily closed the road to nonresidents due to overcrowding and “poorly behaved tourists.” The normally quiet dirt road from Pomfret to Woodstock, home to the frequently photographed Sleepy […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

With a government shutdown just days away, Congress is moving into crisis mode

WASHINGTON (AP) — With a government shutdown five days away, Congress is moving into crisis mode as Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces an insurgency from hard-right Republicans eager to slash spending even if it means curtailing federal services for millions of Americans. There’s no clear path ahead as lawmakers return with tensions high and options limited. […]

6 hours ago

FILE - United Auto Workers members walk the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayn...

Associated Press

Biden is headed to Michigan to join the UAW picket line. He’s all-in on showing his union bona fides

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s decision to stand alongside United Auto Workers picketers Tuesday on the 12th day of their strike against major carmakers underscores an allegiance to labor unions that appears to be unparalleled in presidential history. Experts in presidential and U.S. labor history say they cannot recall an instance where a sitting […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

California governor signs law barring schoolbook bans based on racial, gender teachings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Monday to ban school boards from rejecting textbooks based on their teachings about the contributions of people from different racial backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities. Newsom called the measure “long overdue.” “From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to […]

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

In Utah and Kansas, state courts flex power over new laws regulating abortion post-Roe