Abortion Is Effectively Banned in Kentucky

Beyond a 15-week abortion ban, Kentucky’s new law creates an abortion-monitoring system so baroque, providers and state agencies alike can’t do their jobs.
A pro-life demonstrator kneels in front of a line of volunteer clinic escorts in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center, an abortion clinic, on May 8, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
 A pro-life demonstrator kneels in front of a line of volunteer clinic escorts in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center, an abortion clinic, on May 8, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jon Cherry / Getty Images)

Kentucky has effectively banned abortion, abortion rights supporters say, after the state Legislature voted Wednesday evening to override its governor’s recent veto of a slew of abortion restrictions. 

The abortion restrictions, which are lumped under one law known as House Bill 3, include a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. They are so onerous that abortion providers in the state say they are unable to comply with them. The two abortion clinics left in Kentucky, EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood, are now suing over the law.

Advertisement

“This is a clear attempt to halt access to abortion and eliminate access to a constitutionally protected right,” Rebecca Gibron, interim CEO for Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, told reporters on a call Wednesday, ahead of the veto override. “Anti-abortion legislators have created restrictions that the state is not yet even prepared to enforce.”

House Bill 3’s list of restrictions is lengthy: Beyond the 15-week ban, it limits the provision of abortion-inducing pills and hardens the rules around minors’ ability to get abortions. The law also lays down a baroque system of recording abortions, requiring physicians who perform the procedure to report their full name and address to the state, as well as the abortion patient’s city, age, race, ethnicity, age of their sexual partner, information about possible past pregnancies, and reason for the abortion.

Gibron told reporters that recording this kind of information could jeopardize patients’ privacy. The law also requires the state to set up an extensive monitoring system—one that state agencies say they don’t have enough resources to manage. 

There are no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest.

“It is over 70 pages of regulations, unnecessary regulations, but regulations that cannot be complied with overnight,” said Carrie Flaxman, a Planned Parenthood attorney. “It requires forms that don’t exist, programs that don’t exist, and other requirements that take months, if not longer, to comply with.”

Advertisement

The 15-week ban also flies in the face of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and current abortion jurisprudence, which blocks states from totally banning abortion ahead of fetal viability. That benchmark is typically pegged at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

However, the Supreme Court is now weighing the constitutionality of a 15-week ban in Mississippi. The justices’ decision in that case, which could obliterate abortion access across the country, is now expected within weeks. And conservatives have seen a window of opportunity in that case: Red states are now advancing a number of 15-week abortion bans, in anticipation that the Supreme Court will give them the green light to take effect. 

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed House Bill 3 last week. In his veto message, he cited the fact that House Bill 3 is expected to initially cost one state agency close to $1 million—but the bill doesn’t appropriate any money for those costs.

However, the state legislature is dominated by Republicans. Both chambers of the legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of the veto override Wednesday.

The lawsuits over House Bill 3 are being filed in federal court, but there is no timeline of when a court may put a halt to the law. Gibron said that abortion providers are now working to get wouldbe patients out of the state. 

Roughly 4,100 abortions were performed in Kentucky in 2020, the most recent year for which state data is available.

On Thursday morning, hours after the Kentucky veto override, Florida also took steps to limit abortion access: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a 15-week abortion ban that’s now scheduled to take effect on July 1. It also does not have rape or incest exceptions.