Editorials

Bevin’s quest to outlaw abortion in Kentucky is unconstitutional and underhanded

Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers lined up outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville on July 17. The escorts were preparing for a large anti-abortion protest seeking to shut down the center, the last one providing abortions in the state of Kentucky.
Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers lined up outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville on July 17. The escorts were preparing for a large anti-abortion protest seeking to shut down the center, the last one providing abortions in the state of Kentucky. Associated Press

In case there were any lingering doubts, a trial in federal court in Louisville last week made this much clear: Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking to effectively outlaw abortion in Kentucky — something the U.S. Supreme Court has long ruled states cannot do.

The three days of testimony also made clear that Bevin’s administration has used underhanded tactics to accomplish its unconstitutional goal.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers heard evidence of how a Louisville hospital was threatened with loss of funding unless it canceled a transfer agreement with Planned Parenthood, which needed the document to be licensed to perform abortions in Louisville.

Courts would never have upheld the withholding of Medicaid funding. But the University of Louisville Hospital, then managed by KentuckyOne, canceled anyway. Few hospitals would risk clashing with Bevin, who often displays a vindictive streak.

The judge also heard how the administration in June enacted emergency regulations also intended to make it more difficult if not impossible to comply with the 1998 law mandating that abortion providers have transfer agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. Why did rules based on a 19-year-old law suddenly need tightening? Only to justify harassment of abortion providers.

Bevin is using the regulation to try to shut down EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, currently the state’s only abortion clinic.

Transfer agreements have no medical value. Even a witness for the administration testified that there is no research or medical evidence that the agreements protect patients. Abortion is extremely safe, on par with oral surgery. Hospitals are required by federal law to treat all emergencies; ambulances come when you dial 911, no previous agreement required.

The legislature enacted the law at the behest of the anti-abortion lobby, but not until Bevin became governor was it wielded in ways that clearly run afoul of a Supreme Court ruling issued in 2016. In that case, the court struck down a Texas law that imposed medically unnecessary restrictions that closed more than half of the state’s abortion providers.

Laws and rules that result in “fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding” at clinics, or force patients to drive “more than 150 miles” create an “undue burden” not allowed by the Constitution, the court ruled.

Bevin’s lawyer, Steve Pitt, argued that forcing Kentuckians to travel to other states to end a pregnancy is not an undue burden and that the administration is seeking only to protect patients — an argument that is as flimsy as Bevin’s real motives are clear.

The administration, which also shut down a clinic that provided first trimester abortions in Lexington, has yet to produce evidence of harm to a single patient of an abortion provider.

Like many Kentuckians, Bevin staunchly opposes abortion. That’s his right, but Kentucky has too many needs to keep wasting state money and resources on unconstitutional attacks on women’s rights.

Judge Stivers, who had blocked the state from closing Kentucky’s last abortion clinic, gave the lawyers 60 days to file final briefs, before he makes what should be an easy ruling.

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