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Preliminary Decision Coming Soon On Challenge To New Kentucky Abortion Law

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  A federal court on Thursday heard testimony and arguments over a challenge to the state’s new ultrasound abortion requirement.

U.S. District Judge David Hale will decide in the next few days whether to temporarily block the law.

The law, signed by Gov. Matt Bevin on Jan. 9, requires doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions, narrate a description of the fetus and play audio of the fetal heartbeat for the woman.

An abortion provider testified Thursday that the new requirement distresses women who don’t want to hear the description or see the ultrasound reading.

“Forcing them to hear the heart-tones can be extremely upsetting to them,” said Dr. Tanya Franklin, a physician at EMW Women’s Surgical Center, which is suing the state over the new law. “It’s making me feel like I’m coercing them.”

Franklin testified that the ultrasounds are usually conducted with probes which have to be inserted into the vagina, and that the description added between three and five minutes to the procedure.

“I think we’re being a little paternalistic by saying the woman can’t make this decision herself,” Franklin said.

EMW conducts about 3,000 abortions a year, according to testimony.

The law was one of the first policies passed by the Republican-led state legislature this year. Republicans have control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in state history.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state over the new law on behalf of EMW, the last abortion provider in Kentucky. They say the law infringes on doctor’s rights to free speech and interferes with the relationship between physicians and patients.

Steve Pitt, representing the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, argued that the state has a compelling interest to pass laws that protect the fetus.

“It’s a question of choice, no one can deny that,” Pitt said. “The state’s interest is ensuring that that choice is as fully-formed as possible.”

Pitt also argued that even though women have a constitutional right to an abortion, “there is not a constitutional right, as far as I know, to have a shorter, rather than longer, abortion procedure.”

In 2014, a federal appeals court struck down a similar law in North Carolina and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal of the case.

Bevin also signed a law this year that bans abortions after the 20thweek of pregnancy.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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