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Abortion will be legal in Kansas even if Roe v. Wade falls, the state Supreme Court just ruled

Kansas judges rule abortion is protected by state constitution

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state's constitution protects a women's right to abortion, a surprisingly pro-choice decision for the traditionally conservative state.

Thanks to the decision, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would remain legal in Kansas, according to Geniveve Scott, the lead counsel on the lawsuit and a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Health. The decision will also make it much more difficult for the state to pass regulations restricting the procedure, like admitting privilege requirements and mandatory waiting periods, Scott said in a telephone interview with CBS News on Friday.

"This is an incredible decision that really defines what the legal standard now is in Kansas," Scott said in a telephone interview with CBS News on Friday. "It's extremely exciting."

Because the decision was made in the state's highest court, there is no path for appeal, she said. 

"The recognition of inalienable natural rights in section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights is intended for all Kansans, including pregnant women," the court's decision reads. 

Because the judges found that abortion was a part of a woman's "personal autonomy" protected by the state constitution, any regulations proposed by Kansas politicians that restrict access to abortion will now be held to "strict scrutiny," according to the nearly 200-page legal decision.

"Let this be a strong message to politicians everywhere who insist on passing unconstitutional and dangerous health care policies: We will never stop fighting to safeguard our patient's access to health care and our rights to bodily autonomy," said Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen in a statement to CBS News on Friday.

Before Friday, Kansas had historically been one of the most restrictive when it came to abortion access, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. The state has only four abortion clinics, and women are required to undergo mandatory counseling and after that wait 24 hours before getting the procedure. Abortion is prohibited after 20 weeks.

Friday's order has been four years in the making, said Scott. The lawsuit, brought in 2015, challenged a ban on an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which are used for nearly all second-trimester abortions, Scott said. The law was blocked in July 2015 by a district judge, a decision that was immediately appealed by the state. A legal battle ensued, leading to Friday's sweeping decision, Scott said.

"This opinion can and should serve as a model for other states that want to protect the basic privacy of their citizens, too," Scott said.

The decision is also reminiscent of a period when Kansas was more open to abortion access. In the mid-1990s, the state was one of just a handful that offered third-trimester abortions, and was home to Dr. Robert Tiller, the abortion physician who was assassinated by an anti-abortion access extremist in 2009.