Bevin had no legal grounds for punishing Planned Parenthood

“Defies reason” is how a circuit judge described the Bevin administration’s claim that Planned Parenthood was illegally providing abortions in Louisville.

In throwing out Bevin’s attempt to punish Planned Parenthood with more than $500,000 in fines, Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry found that, contrary to the administration’s accusations, Planned Parenthood complied with all applicable laws and regulations. And, the judge said, so did the Cabinet for Health and Family Services when it gave the nonprofit the go-ahead late last year to to open its new abortion clinic.

Only after Republican Matt Bevin became governor did the cabinet withdraw its approval and cite Planned Parenthood for “willfully” violating licensing requirements.

The judge said ample documentation revealed that Planned Parenthood and the cabinet followed “well-established procedure” by waiting until the facility was in operation to conduct the pre-licensing inspection.

“Based simply on a change in Cabinet personnel, it defies reason that an abortion facility which opened based on the approval of the Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General may be then said to have willfully violated the law by that same Cabinet,” the judge wrote.

In other words, laws and regulations do not change just because the governor does.

Bevin’s harassment of Planned Parenthood, motivated by his opposition to abortion, raises questions about whether any abortion provider, or any Kentuckian seeking an abortion, can receive equitable, impartial treatment from this administration.

Women have a constitutional right to choose to end a pregnancy. Bevin’s lawyer has acknowledged that abortion is legal. But Bevin has shut down the EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington, despite no evidence of harm to any patients in the years it has provided first-trimester abortions. And the administration plans to appeal dismissal of the lawsuit against Planned Parenthood, which still needs a state license from the Bevin administration to operate its new clinic in Louisville.

Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month, Bevin and lawmakers of both parties may find it harder to infringe on Kentuckians’ reproductive rights. Laws and regulations that serve no medical purpose but impose undue burdens on women seeking abortions are unconstitutional, the court ruled in a Texas case.

A new Kentucky law, enacted by the legislature earlier this year, certainly seems to fit that category. There’s no medical benefit to requiring women to receive a state-mandated briefing in person or by video with a physician at least 24 hours before undergoing an abortion.

But the in-person requirement does place a new burden on women, forcing them to make two trips to the clinic or take time off from work for the video briefing, which Senate President Robert Stivers said could be conducted in a public library when women lack access to a private computer. Because of Bevin’s actions, Kentucky currently has only one abortion provider, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, serving the entire state.

Like the unconstitutional Texas law, the new Kentucky law erects a particularly high barrier for poor and rural women and increases medical risks because women faced with the additional cost and time demand may delay or self-induce abortions.

It would be interesting to see whether this and other restrictions on abortion in Kentucky could withstand challenge under the Supreme Court’s standard.