Federal Judge Blocks Kentucky Abortion Law, Governor Appeals

A federal judge vetoed a Kentucky bill on May 10 that would ban a common abortion procedure from being performed during the second-trimester, stating that the law creates a “substantial obstacle” to a woman’s right to have an abortion.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. said that the law was a “violation of a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment rights to privacy and bodily integrity,” and that outlawing the standard dilation and evaluation (D&E) procedures would “unduly burden” women seeking an abortion, according to The Associated Press.

“If the Act goes into effect, standard D&E abortions will no longer be performed in the Commonwealth due to ethical and legal concerns regarding compliance with the law,” McKinley wrote.

The left-leaning activist group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that challenged the abortion ban cheered at the judge’s decision and called it a “victory.” The organization represented E.M.W. Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville—the only abortion facility in Kentucky.

The legal team for the Kentucky governor said that they would bring the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and that they were confident that the law “will ultimately be upheld,” The Associated Press reported.

“We profoundly disagree with the court’s decision and will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to protect unborn children from being dismembered limb by limb while still alive,” Elizabeth Goss Kuhn, the spokesperson for Governor Matt Bevin, said in a statement.

The D&E procedures, also known as the second-trimester abortion, is typically performed more than 14 weeks into the pregnancy.

The bill in dispute, Bill 454, passed last spring declared an emergency, calling for the human rights of unborn babies to be protected. It prohibits abortion where doctors can detect fetal heartbeats, and allows the use of D&E procedures only if other methods have failed. Violating the rules would be deemed a felony offense and could cost a physician his or her medical license, but pregnant women who sought the procedures would not be prosecuted.

The Kentucky General Assembly has since passed four other bills, two of which have been placed under suspension by federal judge David Hale. Both bills, including one restricting abortions upon the detection of a heartbeat, and the other based on the reason of gender, race, and disability, were signed into law by Gov. Bevin in March.

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April Lanham (C) undergoes a procedure that allows the audience at a Kentucky legislative meeting to hear her unborn son’s heartbeat in Frankfort, Ky., on Feb. 14, 2019. (Tom Latek/Kentucky Today via AP)

At week six, the fetus will begin to develop ears, eyes, and four limbs, while the heart begins to beat at a regular rhythm. The baby will have motions of sucking and stretching at week 16 and have a clear-formed face, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Although the ACLU claimed the operating procedure is “the safest method that can be used” for women that are more than 14 weeks pregnant, Steve Pitt, the general counsel for Gov. Bevin, called the practice of using surgical instruments to extract and dismember the fetus “gruesome, brutal, and inhumane” while defending the bill last year, according to The Associated Press.

“Here in Kentucky, we don’t believe you should be allowed to dismember a living child in the process of killing,” Gov. Bevin told WHAS-TV during the November 2018 midterm elections. “While the child is alive, you cannot remove its limb in the process of removing it from the womb, that’s all this law is about.”

As many as 3,312 cases of abortions were performed in Kentucky in 2016, of which nearly one-sixth used the D&E procedures, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

georgia signing abortion law
Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp (C) signs legislation in Atlanta, banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, on May 7, 2019. Georgia became the fourth state to enact the ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Several other states in the south and midwest, including Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama, are also seeking to ban abortions, while similar bills have been enacted in the state of Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio.

abortion ban map 2019