Politics & Government

Bevin administration files lawsuit to close abortion clinic in Lexington

A sign across the street from EMW Women’s Clinic on Burt Road was erected by the 40 Days for Life campaign that advocates prayer and fasting to seek an end to abortion.
A sign across the street from EMW Women’s Clinic on Burt Road was erected by the 40 Days for Life campaign that advocates prayer and fasting to seek an end to abortion. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Lexington has an unlicensed abortion clinic that should be closed until it receives a license from the state, the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court.

The 10-page lawsuit filed by Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, and Jennifer Wolsing, an attorney for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says Eubanks & Marshall of Lexington, PSC, doing business as EMW Women’s Clinic, is operating an unlicensed abortion clinic at 161 Burt Road, off Nicholasville Road.

A recent inspection of the clinic — its first since 2006 — uncovered that it exists solely to perform abortions, disqualifying it for the licensure exemption provided to private physicians’ offices, the lawsuit says.

“It is an abortion facility, and as such, the law requires that it be licensed,” the lawsuit contends.

The state is seeking an injunction to close the clinic until it is licensed, and it has asked a judge to impose the maximum fines allowed under the law. No specific dollar amount was included in the lawsuit.

Lexington attorney Scott White, who is representing the clinic, said Thursday evening that the clinic is operating legally, as it has since 1989, and that it has not received any report from the state.

“We look forward to defending our position in court,” he said, adding that EMW also has an abortion clinic in Louisville.

EMW operates the only active abortion clinics in Kentucky, though private physicians in the state qualify for a licensure exemption to perform abortions.

This marks the second time Bevin, who took office in December, has gone after what his administration said was an unlicensed abortion clinic in Kentucky. Bevin, a Republican, ran for governor as a strong opponent of abortion.

“There are laws in place to protect our citizens, and we will ensure the laws are upheld,” Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Glisson said Thursday.

Two weeks ago, the state filed a lawsuit against Planned Parenthood, saying the organization performed abortions without a license at its new clinic in Louisville. Planned Parenthood said it had complied with instructions it received from the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, whom Bevin replaced in early December, and offered abortions as part of the state’s standard licensing procedure.

The state is seeking nearly $700,000 in fines from Planned Parenthood, which stopped performing abortions until the matter is resolved.

Bevin’s lawsuit against EMW Women’s Clinic says the Lexington clinic doesn’t have a required agreement with an ambulance service, ensuring that a patient may be transferred to a hospital if an emergency occurs during an abortion.

Kentucky law requires abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with both a hospital and an ambulance service.

“Its only plan is to call 911 in the event of an emergency. This does not comply with Kentucky law and jeopardizes the safety and lives” of patients, the lawsuit says.

The suit also says the Lexington clinic maintained expired medicine and wasn’t clean.

The lawsuit says the state cabinet received an anonymous complaint Feb. 15 that the Lexington clinic performed abortions only and wasn’t licensed.

Two cabinet surveyors from its Office of the Inspector General — Elizabeth Richards and Laurie Heckel — visited the clinic Feb. 17.

From an interview with medical assistant Rachina Miles, the state said, it learned that the clinic doesn’t provide any care other than abortions.

The suit says a subsequent interview with clinic director Dona Wells and clinic owner Ernest Marshall, a doctor, “revealed that the facility is an abortion clinic and does not provide any other services or procedures.”

“Lab work, ultrasounds and pelvic exams are only performed in conjunction with the abortion procedure,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also says the cabinet surveyors noted “several unsafe and unsanitary conditions” during their visit.

Those included multiple cuts in the tape covering the bottom portion of a procedure table that could breed bacteria; multiple expired medicines, or medicines that had no labels or expiration dates; and dust, dirt and grime on numerous plastic bags and a portable oxygen tank.

“Observation of the area for cleaning instruments revealed similarly filthy conditions,” the lawsuit says.

State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, whose district includes the clinic, said she was “disappointed that the facilities weren’t up to standards, and we’ll see what happens with it next.”

Martin Cothran, a spokesman for The Family Foundation in Lexington, praised the Bevin administration “for doing what previous administrations said they were doing but weren’t — acting to protect the health of women.”

“Despite all the rhetoric about protecting the health of women, we now find out that the health of women took a back seat to someone’s ideological agenda,” he said.

ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge said he was “deeply concerned about the increasingly hostile climate around access to abortion in our commonwealth.”

“Safe and legal abortions are already difficult for many Kentucky women to access, with only two clinics in Louisville and Lexington,” he said. “Through lawsuits and a string of anti-abortion bills this legislative session constitutional rights are being eroded under the guise of ‘women’s safety.’”

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics