The last abortion clinic in Kentucky is heading back to court to block a new law that further restricts abortion access in the state.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of EMW Women's Surgical Center, the state’s sole abortion clinic, and two of its providers, in an attempt to block a new law that bans doctors from performing a common second-trimester abortion procedure. Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the law, which took effect instantly, just hours before the ACLU launched its lawsuit.
“The result is severe: It has extinguished access to abortion in Kentucky for every woman at and after 15 weeks of pregnancy,” the ACLU lawsuit alleges. “Patients are suffering medical, constitutional and irreparable harm as a result of being denied the ability to obtain an abortion at all.”
The law technically prohibits a procedure known as a “dilation and evacuation,” or D&E, from being used to end pregnancies 11 weeks after fertilization, except in the case of a medical emergency. D&Es, which include removing a fetus through suction and surgical tools, are generally regarded as the safest and most common abortion method to use for second-trimester pregnancies. (Women can, however, undergo another type of abortion procedure up until about 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the ACLU’s lawsuit.)
Because they’re used so widely, abortion rights advocates say banning D&Es amounts to banning second-trimester abortions altogether and is thus unconstitutional. And several courts have seemingly shared that opinion: Judges have blocked several states from enacting bans on D&Es, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, ACLU of Kentucky Advocacy Director Kate Miller told the Courier Journal.
In a statement, Bevin’s Communications Director Elizabeth Kuhn said the ACLU’s lawsuit, “while not surprising, is nonetheless disturbing.” “Kentucky’s elected representatives voted overwhelmingly this session to safeguard unborn children against the gruesome practice of live dismemberment abortion,” she added.
The ACLU and the EMW Women’s Surgical Center have now sued Kentucky three times in two years, according to the ACLU of Kentucky. Last September, they successfully convinced a judge to strike down a law that would’ve required providers not only to perform an ultrasound on patients seeking an abortion, but also attempt to show them the ultrasound and play audio of the fetal heartbeat.
Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services also accused the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, which is located in Louisville, of failing to comply with state administrative regulations and attempted to shut it down last year. The clinic quickly filed a lawsuit, arguing that the regulations were medically unnecessary. A ruling has yet to be issued in that case.
“The other providers just voluntarily closed over the years,” Ernest Marshall, a physician who helped open EMW Women’s Surgical Center and a Lexington-based satellite clinic that closed in January, told VICE News last year. “My two clinics have been the only ones in the state for a fairly long time, at least 10 or 15 years.”
Cover image: The EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky.