KS Supreme Court justice gets wild hair in abortion case

KS Supreme Court justice gets wild hair in abortion case

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall, who has really good hair.

Kansas Reflector

What’s the deal with Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall and hair?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the twin decisions by the Kansas Supreme Court that were issued Friday, upholding the right of women in this state to choose abortion.

And Stegall, in his dissenting opinion, tried to make it about hair.

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More on that later, but first, let’s recap what the court actually decided.

One of the cases, Hodes and Nauser v. Kobach, struck down a state law banning the abortion method known as “dilation and extraction,” which anti-abortion advocates call “partial birth abortion.”

The other case, Hodes and Nauser v, Stanekoverturned a law seeking to establish regulations obviously designed to be so onerous that no abortion-providing doctor or clinic could possibly comply, so they’d have to shut down.

In both cases, the court majority restated its earlier ruling that personal body autonomy is a fundamental right under the Kansas Constitution, so a woman has a right to obtain a safe and legal abortion without undue interference from the state Legislature.

The legal standard the court applied is called “strict scrutiny.” What that means is when a government tries to infringe on a fundamental right, it has to prove three things:

1) The state has a “compelling government interest” in regulating that right.

2) Any regulations passed have to directly serve that interest.


3) Actions must be “narrowly tailored” to accomplish the government interest in the least intrusive way possible.

Which naturally brings us to … hate?

Well, it does in Stegall’s mind, the only justice filing dissenting opinions in the cases.

In his dissent in the clinical regulation case, Stegall argued for page after page that if the government has to meet strict scrutiny standards when regulating abortions, the same must apply to regulating hair styles and hair removal.

“Is the (court) majority not aware that hair growth, hair removal, and hair styling is one of the most hotly contested, litigated, and legislated upon topics under the umbrella of ‘personal autonomy’?” Stegall asks in his dissent. “It turns out that body hair is one of the most personal and intimate expressions of the ‘inviolate personality’ of human beings, often inseparable from religious and racial identities, and always a baseline indicator of a person’s expression of individual identity.”

Then he sort of tries to hijack the CROWN movement, which is aimed at ending discrimination against African Americans in businesses and school activities because of their hair styles and textures.

“Wendy Greene, one of the nation’s foremost legal experts on hair discrimination and a legal architect of the federal CROWN Act — an acronym for ‘Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair’ — has declared that how one chooses to style their hair ‘is a defining feature of their identity and personhood,’” Stegall wrote.

That drew a sigh from state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who has been pushing for a statewide CROWN Act for years.

“I never thought we’d put those two things together, hair and abortion — wow,” she said. “It’s just interesting over the years, the way that one group advocating for or against an issue will use another sensitive topic to support their issue. To me, it’s apples and oranges.”

But Stegall wasn’t through.

He also took a swipe at Gov. Laura Kelly for vetoing a bill that would have deregulated businesses offering “sugaring,” a process used to remove unwanted body hair, often in intimate areas.

“In her veto message, Governor Kelly explained that deregulation ‘could lead to safety and sanitation problems. We have a responsibility to protect Kansans — and this deregulation would threaten the health and safety of Kansans,’” ​​Stegall wrote.

“So, the fundamental right to personal autonomy — to have control over one’s body — guarantees a woman’s right to have an unborn child removed from her womb without government regulation, while hair removal ‘threaten(s) the long-term health and safety of Kansans’ and must be regulated by the ‘expertise’ of the Kansas Board of Cosmetology?” he continued. “As a matter of policy, these choices may be defensible. As a matter of constitutional law, it is incoherent.”

The only thing I find incoherent here is Justice Stegall’s line of reasoning.

The state has the authority, indeed the duty, to regulate personal services to prevent injury and the spread of disease, whether it is hair removal or medical procedures.

And nobody can “have an unborn child removed from her womb without government regulation,” as Stegall claims.

Clinicians providing abortions must comply with the same health and safety regulations as any other medical professionals providing comparable levels of care — and then some.

That is as it should be.

What the Stanek The decision establishes that when a person has a fundamental constitutional right, lawmakers cannot abuse their regulatory authority to create impossible-to-follow rules that legislate that right out of existence, motivated by their own ideological opposition to the right itself.

That’s what legislators tried to do. And that’s what the Supreme Court majority told them they can’t do.

It’s a wise decision. It’s the right decision.

Profile Image of Dion Lefler

Opinion Editor Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business as a reporter in Wichita for 25 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay serving ministries at the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.