Abortion ends in Kentucky as Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade due to trigger law

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Access to abortion ended abruptly in Kentucky Friday following the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, its landmark 1973 ruling establishing abortion as a constitutional right.

That's because Kentucky is one of about a dozen states with a so-called trigger law enacted in 2019 that calls for an end to all abortion services should Roe v. Wade be struck down. It is allowed only  to save the life of a  patient or prevent disabling injury.

In Kentucky, the law "shall become effective immediately" upon any decision of the Supreme Court that reverses Roe v. Wade and gives states the authority to prohibit abortion, the law states.

EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky's only full-time abortion clinic, has ceased offering services "as a precaution," the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said in a statement.

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But the ACLU vowed to continue its fight in state court to argue the Kentucky Constitution allows for the legal right to abortion, a spokesman said.

"The ACLU is bringing everything it has to the fight for abortion access following this devastating ruling," said Amber Duke, interim director.

Abortion opponents point to a measure on the ballot this fall that asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment declaring there is no state right to abortion.

And abortion opponents released a flurry of statements praising the 6-3 decision, among them Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life.

"The prayers of millions of pro-life Americans have been answered as our legal system begins to recognize the rights, dignity and humanity of every precious child," Wuchner said in a statement. "We rejoice in today in this long-awaited victory."

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican considered the architect of the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, praised the decision.

"Millions of Americans have spent half a century praying, marching and working towards today's historic victories for the rule of law and for innocent life," he said. "I have been proud to stand with them throughout our long journey and I share their joy today."

The Supreme Court had barriers installed after a draft of its decision on abortion was leaked to the media.
The Supreme Court had barriers installed after a draft of its decision on abortion was leaked to the media.

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But U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, of Louisville, Kentucky's only Democrat in Congress, offered sharp criticism of the decision, calling it a "dark day for America."

"Let's be clear: This means people will suffer. It means women will die," Yarmuth said, "This is the path Mitch McConnell chose when he shredded the Constitution to rig the court with ideological zealots unbothered by the struggles of everyday Americans."

Wuchner said her group and others opposed to abortion will increase work to urge voters to approve the amendment to the state constitution that eliminates it as a right in Kentucky. Abortion rights supporters say they are working to defeat it.

Friday's Supreme Court decision closes off the federal courts as a means to try to preserve abortion rights in states.

The court's six conservative justices, in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, found simply that "the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion."

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," Alito wrote for the majority. "Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences."

Kentucky abortion access: What could Kentucky abortions look like without Roe v. Wade? History paints grim picture

Further, Kentucky patients seeking abortion won't be able to find one in most nearby states.

Of Kentucky's seven surrounding states, only Illinois and Virginia would continue to allow largely unrestricted abortion services, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy group. Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri already have restrictions or are likely to soon eliminate abortion access, according to the institute.

A woman held up an anti-abortion sign during a Right to Life rally at the steps of Louisivlle Metro Hall. Right to Life of Louisville hosted the rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Roe v Wade. January 21, 2022
A woman held up an anti-abortion sign during a Right to Life rally at the steps of Louisivlle Metro Hall. Right to Life of Louisville hosted the rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Roe v Wade. January 21, 2022

The Supreme Court decision comes two months after a draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade was leaked to the media May 2, creating an instant uproar.

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First reported by Politico, the draft by Associate Justice Samuel Alito and supported by a majority of justices, overturned Roe v. Wade, Politico reported.

Kentucky's trigger law, House Bill 148, was among more than a dozen laws enacted to ban or restrict abortion after Republicans won control of the General Assembly in 2016.

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Under the trigger law, anyone who violates the law by performing an abortion or administering medication to terminate a pregnancy shall be charged and prosecuted for a felony. It says no criminal penalties are to be imposed on a pregnant individual under the law.

The law eliminating abortion access contains a narrow exception that allows a physician to perform a procedure only if necessary to prevent the death of or permanent injury to a pregnant person.

Currently, two providers in Kentucky — Planned Parenthood and EMW Women's Surgical Center, both in Louisville — offer abortion services.

Jay Becker holds signs as she protests Kentucky's new abortion law outside Louisville Metro Hall on April 21, 2022.
Jay Becker holds signs as she protests Kentucky's new abortion law outside Louisville Metro Hall on April 21, 2022.

Planned Parenthood has said it will continue to provide all other health services, such as birth control and cancer screenings, and will work with patients to find abortion services outside Kentucky.

And two outside non-profit groups that help individuals and families pay for or locate and arrange abortions have pledged to continue their work.

The A Fund, a Louisville-based group, helps low-income women pay for abortions.

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Another group, the Kentucky Health Justice Network, helps patients locate the nearest clinic, schedule appointments and assists with expenses ranging from travel to the procedure itself.

This story will be updated.

Reach Deborah Yetter at dyetter@courier-journal.com. Find her on Twitter at @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/subscribe

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: SCOTUS strikes down Roe v. Wade, ends abortion access in Kentucky