A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel heard arguments Thursday about a law that could close the last abortion clinic in the state.
Kentucky currently has one abortion facility, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, and Planned Parenthood has been trying to open a second one for years. Both are involved in the lawsuit.
In 2017, they challenged a 1998 state law that requires abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital for patient emergencies.
Pro-life Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has said that EMW is not in compliance with the law and therefore not adequately prepared to help patients if emergency complications arise. However, the courts have allowed the abortion facility to remain open while the court battle continues.
On Thursday, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Brigitte Amiri argued that the law is “tantamount to a ban on abortion in the state of Kentucky,” Courthouse News reports.
However, state attorney Chad Meredith told the appeals court panel that the law does not create an undue burden on abortion access, it protects women, according to Spectrum News 1.
“The Sixth Circuit has already affirmed Ohio’s transfer agreement statute over a decade ago and I don’t think anything has changed since then and I think our current statue is equally as constitutional,” Meredith said. “This is about women’s safety and health.”
He also said that every woman in Kentucky lives within 150 miles of an abortion facility in another state.
Afterward, Meredith told reporters: “Transfer agreements are important safety measures that even the National Abortion Federation recommends. All facilities in Kentucky that exist to perform out patient surgeries have to have these safety protections, and it doesn’t make sense to eliminate one category of health care facility just because it provides one certain type of service,” WDRB reports.
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Amiri contended that the state is just trying to force the abortion clinic to close.
“The Supreme Court has said that states can’t ban abortion, and that’s effectively what would happen here in the face of no threat to women’s health. What would happen is that abortion access would be eliminated, and over 40 years of Supreme Court precedent has held up that that is not permissible,” she said.
The local news reports pro-lifers rallied outside the courthouse on Thursday, urging that the law be upheld to protect women’s lives.
Last fall, a federal judge ruled against the law, claiming the transfer agreement requirement is an unconstitutional burden on women’s access to abortion. The state then appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
Bevin’s administration has been working aggressively to close abortion facilities that do not comply with the law.
In 2016, it shut down another EMW abortion facility in Lexington after state officials caught it masquerading as a doctor’s office and performing abortions without a license. State health investigators also found unsanitary conditions inside the facility, according to the Courier Journal. The state had to go through a legal battle before it could close the facility.
In 2016, Bevin’s administration also caught a new Planned Parenthood facility in Louisville doing abortions without a license.