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Kentucky women seeking abortion won’t have to hear fetal heartbeats

A federal judge struck down a Kentucky law requiring women seeking an abortion to first receive an ultrasound on Wednesday, ruling the law violated the First Amendment.

Under the law, known as House Bill 2, abortion providers must not only show an ultrasound to a pregnant woman, but also to describe the images to her and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat. Right after the law was passed in January, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Kentucky on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic, arguing that violated doctors’ First Amendment rights by “compelling ideological speech.”


And Western District Judge David Hill agreed, pointing out that Kentucky’s interest in protecting women’s health can’t be served by a law that allows women to look away from the ultrasound, or to ask that the audio be turned down or off.

Read: States put a new twist on the old “botched abortion” scare tactic

“As an initial matter, it is impossible to say that H.B. 2 is intended to better inform women considering an abortion when it also permits women to cover their eyes and ears in order to avoid receiving the information [Kentucky] intends for them to receive,” he wrote in his opinion. “Requiring physicians to force upon their patients the information mandated by H.B. 2 has more potential to harm the psychological well-being of the patient than to further the legitimate interests of [Kentucky].”

This isn’t the only lawsuit facing the Louisville-based EMW Women’s Surgical Center. Kentucky recently sought to shut the abortion clinic down, saying that its agreements with local hospitals and ambulance services were “deficient.” The abortion clinic had to sue the state in order to stay open.

A spokesperson for Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, told VICE News that Kentucky is working to ensure that “women have the proper life-saving procedures in place in the event of an emergency.” But Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, had a different take: She called the state’s move “an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky.”

A federal judge heard arguments in that case in early September, and has yet to issue a ruling.