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Abortion rights advocates file lawsuit in state court to restore access to abortions in Kentucky

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter
Three agencies that advocate for reproductive rights filed a lawsuit Monday in state court to give women in Kentucky access to abortions.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood filed a 48-page suit in Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville to block two abortion bans.

The lawsuit comes three days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortions as a federal constitutional right in overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions. The high court said the regulation of abortion should be left to the states.

With the Supreme Court ruling, a 2019 law in Kentucky – called a “trigger law” – went into effect to end abortions in the state except when a mother’s life is in danger.

In the lawsuit, the three providers seek to block the “trigger law” that Attorney General Daniel Cameron, an anti-abortion Republican, has said he will enforce and a six-week abortion ban that was previously blocked by a federal court.

The suit, assigned to Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry, claims the Kentucky Constitution protects the right to privacy and bodily autonomy.

No hearing date had been set as of late Monday.

The suit was filed on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Dr. Ernest Marshall of Louisville, an obstetrician-gynecologist who owns EMW, and Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky.

Defendants are Attorney General Cameron; state Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander; Michael Redmon, executive director of Kentucky Medical Licensure Board; and Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Thomas Wine.
Cameron had no immediate comment on the suit.

In Louisiana Monday, a judge temporarily blocked the state’s abortion “trigger law” banning the procedure at any state of pregnancy. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Ohio and Utah to stop trigger bans from taking effect.

The Kentucky lawsuit says since Roe v. Wade was overturned last week, women in Kentucky have been forced to carry pregnancies against their will or to flee the state to get the care they need.

“Abortion access has been under relentless attack in Kentucky for decades, and last week’s Supreme Court decision has allowed anti-abortion politicians to force their cruel views on Kentuckians,” said a release from the providers.

File photos

“The Supreme Court’s decision to take away a right we have relied on for 50 years has caused devastation in Kentucky and across the country,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

“We hope the court blocks Kentucky’s abortion bans to prevent the life altering harm they are causing. Since Friday, Kentuckians have been turned away from appointments and denied the ability to control their own bodies and futures. The impacts will be long-lasting, with countless people enduring serious health risks from forced pregnancy and childbirth, making it harder to escape poverty, and derailing education, career, and life plans.

“We’ll keep fighting for people’s ability to control if and when to have a child, regardless of where they call home.” 

Amber Duke, ACLU of Kentucky’s interim director, said her group “is bringing everything it has to the fight for abortion access following this devastating ruling.

“We are mobilizing our members, supporters, and volunteers to show up at the statehouse and the ballot box to demand our rights to bodily autonomy. As we navigate a future in which the government can force Kentuckians to remain pregnant against their will, we’ll be doubling down on our work to end maternal mortality, secure paid leave, and expand access to child care.”

“Planned Parenthood isn’t new to this fight and today’s lawsuit marks the latest step in our ongoing effort to ensure that the people of Kentucky have the health care they need and deserve,” said Rebecca Gibron, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky.

“Last week’s opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court put the health and safety of Kentuckians at risk, as well as the fundamental human right to control one’s own bodily autonomy and medical decisions without political interference. Planned Parenthood will continue, as we always have, to stand for our patients and providers. Now, more than ever.”

The providers said in their release that banning abortions
disproportionately harms people of color, those struggling to make ends meet, young people, rural residents, immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ communities.

If abortion remains banned in Kentucky, Black women and other people of color will continue to bear the brunt, they said, adding that these communities already face a severe maternal mortality crisis that is worse in states determined to ban abortion.

The providers said Black women in Kentucky are more than two times more likely to die during childbirth, or shortly after.

If abortion is banned nationwide, pregnancy-related deaths are estimated to increase by 21 percent nationwide, and 33 percent among Black women, they said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by the ACLU, ACLU of Kentucky, Craig Henry PLC, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Kentucky voters in the Nov. 8 general election will decide at the polls if they want to amend the state Constitution to declare there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kentucky.

Abortion advocates and opponents are working hard to convince voters to side with their views at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, issued a statement late Monday in response to what she said were recent erroneous reports on social media about an amendment she filed in 2019 to the trigger law.

She said that law was sponsored by “an anti-choice colleague of mine,” state Rep. Joe Fischer, a Republican from Ft. Thomas who is trying to unseat state Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller in the November general election.

“I vehemently opposed that law and in protest filed an amendment that would have required all women to undergo monthly pregnancy checks by the state,” she said, “I, of course, never intended it to become law, and it was never considered (although I worry we’re getting closer to that reality).

“There is no stronger supporter of reproductive freedom in the General Assembly than I am, and I want to be clear that my amendment was designed to highlight the war on women we have seen in the legislature the last five-plus years.”

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