A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ky. sees new barriers to abortion after Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to 2017 ultrasound act


By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Advocates for reproductive rights say women in Kentucky face yet another obstacle to receiving an abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal this week to hear a legal challenge to a state law.

The 2017 Kentucky Ultrasound Informed Consent Act mandates that doctors perform an ultrasound on women seeking an abortion and describe its images in detail.

If there is a fetal heartbeat, the law requires physicians to make that heartbeat audible to the patient.

The Ultrasound Informed Consent Act requires Kentucky doctors to perform ultrasounds and describe the images to women seeking abortions. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law to the high court, and Heather Gatnarek, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Kentucky, says judges typically do not provide a reason for refusing to hear a case.

She says the court’s decision signals the end of the legal fight to overturn the law.

“The difference, of course, is that where this used to be an option for patients, it is now forced on every patient and there are plenty of situations where patients may not want to hear this information,” she explains.

The law does not allow for any exceptions to providing ultrasound information, even in cases of rape or incest.

Doctors who do not comply with the law could be reported to the state medical board and be fined upwards of $250,000.

Gatnarek points out that Kentucky is one of seven states with only one remaining licensed abortion provider.

“Although Roe v. Wade has not been overturned, it is very much the case that for many people in Kentucky, access to abortion is just too difficult, and really impossible in some instances,” she states.

Gatnarek adds that many state legislators continue working on more restrictive abortion bills.

“We already know that the General Assembly in 2020 has plans to take up other new and different types of abortion laws and abortion restrictions,” she points out.

In a document submitted to the high court, lawyers for the Commonwealth argued the law is necessary to prevent women from experiencing “grief and sorrow” if they later realize they made an uninformed decision.


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