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Appeals Court Hears Ky. Abortion Bill, While Bevin Ceremonially Signs Other Abortion Measures

Ryland Barton

On the same day Gov. Matt Bevin ceremonially signed four new abortion-related bills into law, a three-judge panel heard oral arguments Thursday in a case debating the legality of a state law that requires abortion providers have a written agreement with a hospital to transfer patients in case of an emergency.

That law has been held up in courts since 2017.

A federal judge struck down the law late last year, but the state appealed that decision. Now it’s being considered by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former Republican State Representative Addia Wuchner, who was present during the oral arguments and supports the law, said requiring a transfer agreement sets a basic standard of care for people seeking abortions. It kicks into effect if there’s an emergency like hemorrhaging.

“This shouldn’t be [about] those that would be supportive of abortion, or those who would be opponents to abortion: this is really a women’s health matter,” Wuchner said. “It’s about making sure that when that transfer occurs, there’s already protocols set in place — emergency rooms don’t do abortions every day.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union argues requiring these agreements puts a bigger burden on patients that outweighs any potential benefit.

Heather Gatnarek, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Kentucky, said if the transfer agreement law is enforced, the only abortion clinic left in Kentucky — the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville — would lose its license and shut down.

“There would have been no clinic in the state of Kentucky, which is an incredible burden on patient’s ability to access care, about the most burdensome you can get,” Gatnarek said. “There is no evidence put forth that patients who go to hospitals that have transfer agreements are better cared for than those without.”

Bevin Signs Laws

Also on Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin ceremonially signed into law four abortion-related bills that passed this year’s legislature.

Bevin has previously stated he is the most “pro-life” governor in the U.S.

Two of the state’s new laws have already been temporarily blocked in court after the ACLU sued the state. The first bans abortion if a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected – usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

The other bans abortion if a person is seeking the procedure because of the fetus’ sex, race or a potential disability.Those cases are pending in federal court based in Louisville.

Another bill is already in effect. This law was known as the “abortion reversal” bill. It makes abortion providers give patients information about potentially reversing a medically-induced abortion. Research on the effectiveness of a so-called abortion reversal is inconclusive.

Medical professionals, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say the procedure is unproven. The ACLU hasn’t sued over this law, but says they’re monitoring the measure’s enforcement.

The last bill Bevin signed isHB148, which would make abortion illegal in Kentucky if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Attorney Heather Gatnarek said the ACLU of Kentucky hasn’t filed suit on this because the organization has more pressing laws to focus on. 

“We have a lot of lawsuits that need our attention, and some of which would make it nearly or actually impossible for people to obtain abortion care in Kentucky,” Gatnarek said. “So right now, those are the lawsuits that we are our most focusing on.”

Abortion Views

On Thursday morning, Planned Parenthood of Kentucky released poll results from a survey of 500 registered Kentucky voters and their views on abortion and reproductive health.

The poll shows that views on abortions may have changed since 2014, when the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Kentuckians said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and thirty-six percent said the procedure should be legal in all or most cases.

About 26 percent of people in the Planned Parenthood poll said abortions should be legal and only have limited regulation, 16 percent said abortion regulations are necessary and that it should be legal and 37 percent said abortion be legal only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of a woman.

Eighteen percent said abortions should be illegal in all cases.

About 65 percent of those polled responded that access to reproductive health options, including abortion, was “important.”  And about 86 percent support “medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sex education in the public schools,” that would include information on abstinence, STDs and birth control.

Other findings:

  • 38 percent of people said the state legislature is putting too many restrictions on abortion. 30 percent said not enough, and 18 percent said just right.
  • 65 percent of people said they would have doubts about a law that bans abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case legalizing abortion.
  • 81 percent of people agreed that birth control is a part of health care overall.
  • Almost 40 percent of people were more likely to vote for a candidate because they voted to restrict abortion access, while 41 percent said they were less likely to vote for that person.

The poll was taken in June by Lake Research Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that consults for progressive organizations. Forty-eight percent of those polled were Democrats, 41 percent were Republicans and 11 percent were unaffiliated.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter. Most recently, she was a reporter for Kaiser Health News. During her career, Gillespie has covered all things health — from Medicaid and Medicare payment policy and rural hospital closures to science funding and the dietary supplement market.
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