Douglas County prosecutor promises not to pursue abortion cases after Supreme Court ruling

Shelly Yang/syang@kcstar.com
·2 min read

The district attorney of Douglas County – home to Lawrence and the University of Kansas – is promising not to prosecute women or doctors over abortion if it is banned in Kansas.

District Attorney Suzanne Valdez signed a statement, along with 82 other prosecutors nationwide, committing to not prosecuting abortion crimes following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal right to an abortion. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell also signed on.

The statement, released by the group Fair and Just Prosecution, comes as local prosecutors across the country will confront difficult choices about whether to bring cases in states where abortion is now a crime. More than a dozen states, including Missouri, have laws that will now outlaw abortion.

In the Kansas City region, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree have previously signaled they won’t pursue abortion cases. Valdez now joins the group.

In the statement signed by Valdez, the prosecutors say they will “decline to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”

The immediate effect of Valdez’s commitment will be limited. The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state constitution protects access to abortion and no abortion clinics operate in Douglas County, though one is located in neighboring Johnson County.

But voters will decide in August whether to approve an amendment, called Value Them Both by supporters, that would remove the right to an abortion – giving the Republican-controlled Legislature the power to ban the procedure.

In Republican-controlled states, Democratic prosecutors may clash with Republican attorneys general who want to take a hardler line on going after abortion crimes. Some states give the attorney general the power to prosecute certain cases along with local prosecutors; others don’t.

National Right to Life has proposed model legislation that would provide broad criminal enforcement authority to both local prosecutors and attorneys general.

Missouri appears to provide the attorney general – currently Republican Senate candidate Eric Schmitt – the authority to prosecute abortion-related crimes along with local prosecutors. Whether the Kansas Attorney General’s Office would have the power to pursue abortion cases in the event of a future ban would be up to lawmakers.