A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Federal Court trial begins in Louisville to determine future of Kentucky’s only remaining abortion clinic

By Robin Cornetet
Kentucky Today

A trial is underway in Louisville to determine whether Kentucky’s only remaining abortion clinic will have to close.

Lawyers delivered opening statements on Wednesday morning, followed by the kickoff of what could be up to three days of testimony. Regardless of the outcome, the legal fight is expected to continue through a lengthy appeals process that could 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.

With its survival on the line, Kentucky’s last abortion clinic is bracing for a pivotal legal showdown before U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers at federal courthouse in Louisville. Lawyers for the state and EMW Women’s Surgical Center met for opening arguments Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kentucky Today/Robin Cornetet)

The legal battle is playing out in U.S. District Court in Louisville, where EMW Women’s Surgical Center is contesting state requirements that it have agreements with a local hospital and an ambulance service in case things awry during abortions.

“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 defending the state in the case.

Pitt displayed a map to show distances from any point in Kentucky to abortion clinics in Bloomington, Ind., Bristol, Tenn., Charleston, W.V., Cincinnati, Ohio, Knoxville, Tenn., Nashville and St. Louis.

He said except for a small sliver in Union County, no woman in the state is more than a two-hour drive from an abortion clinic. For many, driving to Louisville would be more of a hardship.

In the lawsuit, EMW questions the justification for the state’s requirements.

Lawyers for the state questioned EMW’s contention that complications are rare in abortions and that the requirements are unnecessary.

Pitt said the case is not about a woman’s right to an abortion, but, rather, it is about the state’s 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.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers allowed the clinic to remain open until after the trial.

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