Federal Judge Strikes Down Law That Could Have Closed Kentucky’s Last Abortion Facility

Photo Credit: Abortion Conversation Project

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama has struck down a law that could have closed the last operating abortion facility in Kentucky.

“The court has carefully reviewed the evidence presented in this case and concludes that the record is devoid of any credible proof that the challenged regulations have any tangible benefit to women’s health,” wrote U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers. “On the other hand, the regulations effectively eliminate women’s rights to abortions in the state. Therefore, the challenged regulations are unconstitutional.”

As previously reported, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent a letter to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville last year to advise that there were technical problems with the facility’s attempts to comply with state requirements to have agreements with a local hospital and ambulance service in the event of a medical emergency.

It noted that the center’s filed agreement with University of Louisville Hospital was “not signed by an authorized representative” and that its arrangements with Mercy Ambulance were also deficient.

In response, the center obtained a new ambulance agreement and also tried to convince the Cabinet that its current signature from the University of Louisville Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health was sufficient.

The Cabinet advised, however, that the state requires that the agreement be signed by the “owner of the acute care hospital, not a subordinate division.”

It also noted that the University of Louisville Hospital had discontinued an agreement with Planned Parenthood, meaning that it might no longer desire an agreement with the center either. The hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives.

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While the abortion facility was soon able to obtain a signature from the interim president, he pulled out of the agreement and “asked that the amended agreement not be sent to the cabinet.”

“What they appear to be saying is we have to go to the Catholics to get permission to do abortions,” attorney Donald Cox told NBC News. “Not a very likely scenario.”

Therefore, because the facility was not been able to comply with the law, the center filed suit with the assistance of the Kentucky American Civil Liberties Union. Stivers issued a temporary injunction against the transfer agreement requirement, stating that “[t]he fundamental right to privacy contained in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment includes the right to choose to have an abortion, subject to certain limitations.”

The case soon went to trial, and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky joined the lawsuit in arguing that the law had been used to prevent it from obtaining a license to perform abortions. On Sept. 28, Stivers sided with the plaintiffs, stating that no matter how abortion facilities try, they will never be able to meet the requirements of the law because no hospital will be willing to enter a transfer agreement with them.

He also concluded that the agreements are unnecessary as few abortive mothers in the state need to be transported to the hospital, and that the requirement to have transfer agreements places a burden on a woman’s “right” to an abortion.

“The evidence presented here establishes clearly that scant medical benefits from transfer and transport agreements are far outweighed by the burden on Kentucky women seeking abortions,” Stivers wrote.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s office has expressed disappointment with the ruling and says that it plans to appeal.

“We are disappointed that the court would strike down a statute that protects the health and well-being of Kentucky women,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Kuhn. “This law has been on the books for over 20 years and its counterpart in Ohio has already been upheld by the Sixth Circuit.”

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