A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Appeal expected on ruling on state’s only remaining abortion clinic; could wind up in U.S. Supreme Court

By Robin Cornetet
Kentucky Today

A federal judge will soon decide whether Kentucky’s only remaining abortion clinic can continue to operate without contracts in place with an ambulance service and a local hospital.

Regardless of how U.S. District Court Judge Greg Stivers rules, the legal fight is expected to continue through a lengthy appeals process that could potentially end up with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kentucky, which had 17 abortion providers in 1978, could become the only state in the nation without an abortion clinic. Besides Kentucky, six other states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Wyoming and West Virginia – have only one such clinic.

U.S. District Court Judge Greg Stivers

EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is contesting state requirements that it must have agreements with a local hospital and an ambulance service in case things go awry during abortions. The trial wrapped up Friday.

With the end of testimony on Friday, both sides now have 60 days to file closing briefs. Some expect Stivers could deliver his ruling as soon as December.

“There is no evidence to prove these erroneous regulations help improve women’s health,” said the clinic’s attorney Donald Cox. “What’s changed here is we have a new sheriff in town that wants to ban abortions.”

Under Kentucky law, such agreements are required. However, EMW contends the requirements are unnecessary and essentially create an unconstitutional restriction on abortions.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, is personally overseeing the case. In his opening statement on Wednesday, Pitt said no woman in the state is more than a two-hour drive from an abortion clinic with facilities in Bloomington, Ind., Bristol, Tenn., Charleston, W.V., Cincinnati, Ohio, Knoxville, Tenn., Nashville and St. Louis.

Pitt said the case is not about a woman’s right to abort, rather if the state has the right to enact laws to protect women.

“Such complications do occur,” the lawyers said. “Transport agreements are important safeguards for women’s health in the event of such complications.”

The legal dispute began earlier this year when the state took steps to shut down the abortion clinic, saying it lacked proper agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. That’s when the clinic filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the state from revoking its license.

Stivers allowed the clinic to remain open until after the trial.

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