A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

United States Supreme Court to decide if Daniel Cameron can defend abortion-related law

By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

The United States Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron can defend an abortion-related law that was struck down by a lower court.

The law, which has been blocked by the courts, was passed in 2018. It bans a surgical procedure commonly used after the 15th week of pregnancy known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E for short.

A D&E abortion is a singularly gruesome procedure, court records say. It entails using “grasping forceps” to “tear apart” an unborn child. The result: “The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would. It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb,” according to Gonzales vs. Carhart in 2007.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced new developments from the U.S. Supreme Court and their intentions to hear the live dismemberment bill in the fall. Cameron was speaking at the Right to Life rally in Frankfort on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Photo by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today)

“The law does not ban D&E abortions but prohibits performing the D&E procedure on a living unborn child. D&E abortions can continue, but an unborn child must die before he or she is dismembered. The law extends compassion to unborn children, demonstrating the Commonwealth’s profound respect for life, according to the document asking the high court for consideration. “HB454 also protects the integrity of the medical profession by modifying an otherwise grisly procedure that would be unthinkable in any other part of the profession,” the document states.

As soon as former Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 454 into law, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville challenged it in court. The suit included Kentucky’s attorney general and the secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, both in their official capacities.

At the time, current Gov. Andy Beshear was the attorney general in Kentucky. He and EMW agreed to a “stipulation and order of dismissal upon conditions,” which dismissed Beshear without prejudice.

A federal judge said the law was unconstitutional, saying it restricted a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus is considered viable. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, agreed.

The state’s secretary of health and family services declined to take further action but when Cameron was elected as the new attorney general, he asked the 6th Circuit to take a second look. The appeals court declined the request, saying too much time had elapsed.

Cameron turned to the Supreme Court to take up the case, saying the court’s refusal to allow him to defend the law blocked him from doing what the state requires of him. He cited the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in California, which allowed state attorneys general to intervene in later stages of litigation.

“I promised Kentuckians that I would defend our laws all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and that’s what we’ve done,” Cameron said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the abortion clinic that had sued over the law, asked the court to stay out of the case.

“This case is only about whether the Attorney General, after having sat on the sidelines of this lawsuit, can jump in at the last minute in an effort to revive an unconstitutional law,” ACLU lawyer Andrew Beck said in a statement.

The Supreme Court will decide only if Cameron can try to reinstate the law. The next term will be in the fall.

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