KY abortion providers file state lawsuit to block trigger law, restore access

Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com
·4 min read

Kentucky’s two abortion providers have sued the state, arguing that the so-called “trigger law” banning the medical procedure infringes on an individual’s right to privacy, which they say is protected by the state constitution.

Kentucky’s two outpatient abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, have asked a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge to temporarily block Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office from enforcing the trigger law, as well as a six-week ban on abortion that was previously blocked in federal court. The state constitution, both clinics argue, protects not only one’s right to privacy but bodily autonomy.

“Pregnant Kentuckians have the right to determine their own futures and make private decisions about their lives and relationships,” the filing reads. “Access to safe and legal abortion is essential to effectuating those rights.”

The joint lawsuit filed Monday comes three days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that for half a century enshrined federal constitutional protections for abortion care. The moment that happened, Kentucky’s so-called trigger law, passed by a Republican majority General Assembly in 2019, locked into place, immediately outlawing all abortions and threatening any physician who provides one with a felony.

“Because of these bans, Kentuckians are being forced to remain pregnant against their will — many of whom will be forced to carry their pregnancies to term and give birth — which threatens their health and lives given the risks associated with both pregnancy and childbirth,” the lawsuit stated.

The new trigger law includes no exceptions for rape, incest or minors wanting an abortion. Only if the procedure is necessary to “prevent the death or substantial risk of death . . . or to prevent the serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ of a pregnant woman” can a provider perform an abortion without risking a felony charge.

Accompanying the lawsuit are sworn testimonies from six unnamed women who each had abortions at EMW. One woman, a single 37-year-old mother of two, survived the devastating December 2021 tornadoes that ripped through west Kentucky. She lost her home, she explained in the filing, so she and her two children moved in with her parents.

On Mother’s Day, she found out she was pregnant. Her first pregnancy was easy, but it took months to recover from her second. Working multiple jobs at 50 to 60 hours a week and receiving no financial assistance, she was worried about the toll a third pregnancy would take, physically, emotionally and financially. She and the man who got her pregnant decided abortion was best.

“I’m still working on rebuilding my life after my home was destroyed and the costs associated with having another child would set me and my children back significantly on the path to rebuilding,” she wrote.

Together they drove three-and-a-half hours to EMW where she, at seven weeks pregnant, got a medication abortion. She did not experience complications and doesn’t regret her decision.

“I love my children and am very grateful to have them. But being a single mother is hard,” she wrote. “I had to make an extremely tough decision,” adding, “I had never thought about this before my own experience, but I realized if we took the right to abortion away from women, they will resort to desperate things to get access.”

Attorney General Cameron, a Republican, plans to enforce the trigger ban. Hours after the high court’s historic ruling on Friday, Cameron said Kentucky lawmakers who passed the trigger law had done the “right thing . . . to make sure that we are standing up for life,” adding that “abortion is, for all intents and purposes, over in the Commonwealth.”

If a Kentucky judge halts the state’s trigger law from being enforced, they wouldn’t be the first. Earlier on Monday in Louisiana, another state whose trigger law took immediate effect, a judge granted a similar request by local abortion providers and issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state’s full-stop ban from enforcement.

Even if a judge grants a temporary restraining order to the law, a bigger threat to abortion access looms on the horizon.

A statewide referendum in November seeks to amend Kentucky’s Constitution to make clear there is no guaranteed right to an abortion in Kentucky. A product of a 2021 bill from anti-abortion Republicans in the General Assembly, voters will decide whether to add this sentence to the state constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the funding of an abortion.”