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The last abortion clinic in Kentucky isn't shutting down just yet

A judge just saved the last abortion provider in Kentucky from shutting down — at least for the next two weeks.

The Louisville-based EMW Women’s Surgical Center received a letter earlier in March from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, informing the center that it wasn’t complying with state administrative regulations and would lose its license. With a deadline of April 3 looming, the center filed a lawsuit Wednesday in hopes of keeping its doors open.


A judge granted the center’s request for emergency relief on Friday. And while doctors can still help patients, the center still faces the possibility of shutting down. The judge’s order will only last for 14 days.

“It’s going to be a long-drawn-out battle,” said Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, which joined the lawsuit.

Though it’s rare that women seeking abortions need to be hospitalized, Kentucky requires abortion providers to have agreements with a local hospital and ambulance company to transfer patients in case of an emergency. While Kentucky’s letter said the center’s relationships with its hospital and ambulance companies were “deficient,” the lawsuit disagrees.

According to the letter, the hospital agreement lacks the signature of “an authorized representative” of the hospital, and the ambulance agreement “[provides] no certainty of transport for an emergency patient.”

But the center’s agreement with the ambulance company has remained virtually unchanged for the past eight years, according to the lawsuit. It’s also held the same agreement with a local hospital since 2014.

So Kentucky’s letter, Amiri said, arrived “totally out of the blue.” Last year, the state’s health arm inspected and approved the center’s agreements, and all three doctors at the abortion provider also have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, according to the suit.

“That’s not the way government works,” the center’s attorney, Don Cox, said. “You have hearings. You give people an opportunity to know what’s going on.”

The center is also currently embroiled in a separate lawsuit against the state over a law passed earlier this year. That law mandates that abortion providers show their patients ultrasounds of their embryos and fetuses, describe the images, and play the fetal heartbeat for the woman to hear. Kentucky’s letter arrived just days before a hearing in that case.

“Under the facts right now, I think one way or the other we’ll be able to keep the clinic open,” Cox said. “But that is a prediction on the outcome of litigation, and they are notoriously unreliable.”

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.