The Long Path to Reclaim Abortion Rights

The lawsuits argue that state constitutions offer more protection for abortion than the federal constitution, either by quirk of state tradition or history. Some, such as Florida’s, include an explicit right to privacy. In Kentucky, lawyers argue their constitution provides a right to “bodily autonomy” as well as privacy. The Roe decision in 1973 declared that the U.S. Constitution afforded a right to privacy that included a woman’s right to abortion; while the Supreme Court overturned that decision, it generally cannot overturn what states say in their own constitutions.

The suit in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country, seeks to protect abortion under a provision of the state constitution — adopted in 1896 — that provides that “both males and female citizens of this state shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”

Largely because of the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the constitution also ensures that state residents have the right to plan their own families; the lawsuit argues this includes the right to choose abortion.

Even in states where lawsuits have been successful, abortion rights groups say they are playing Whack-a-Mole. In Utah, as soon as the court put a temporary injunction on the state’s trigger law banning abortion, a legislator declared that the state’s law against abortion after 18 weeks, which courts had upheld while Roe was in effect, was now the operative law.

“We’re in a chess game and we haven’t gotten checkmate,” said Karrie Galloway, the chief executive of Planned Parenthood in Utah. “We’re doing check, check, check, check. Unfortunately, we’re doing check, check, check with pregnant people and their families’ lives.”

In Kansas, a state Supreme Court decision in 2019 found a right to abortion under the constitutional provisions for “equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But anti-abortion groups put an initiative on the primary ballot this August that seeks to amend the constitution to explicitly say that it does not include a right to abortion, and that the Legislature has the authority to pass further restrictions.

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