One year without Roe v. Wade: Where things stand in Kentucky and Indiana
Saturday marks one year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Here’s how the decision impacted Kentuckians and Hoosiers since then.
For more than 40 years, EMW Women’s Surgical Center provided abortions in Louisville.
As recently as last spring, it was common to see anti-abortion activists posted up outside its clinic downtown, holding signs and confronting people going into the building. Clinic escorts were there, too, acting as a buffer between patients and protesters.
On a cool morning earlier this month, though, the sidewalk outside the building was empty, except for the occasional passerby.
That’s because EMW was forced to stop providing abortions last summer, after the majority conservative U.S. Supreme Court ruled to eliminate a nationwide right to abortion.
Addia Wuchner, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kentucky Right to Life, is glad to see that happen.
“When EMW announced that they were going up for sale, that was our release,” she said. “Thousands of prayers [were] answered.”
Abortion is outlawed in Kentucky unless there’s a life-threatening health risk to the pregnant patient. So what’s next for the state’s anti-abortion movement?
Wuchner says Kentucky Right to Life remains focused on changing people’s hearts and persuading them not to get an abortion.
“You know, you can stop a facility, you can shut it down. But you’re still going to have a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy,” she told LPM News.
Some pregnant Kentuckians are able to travel to clinics in places where abortion is still legal.
Various organizations provide financial support to help people who can’t afford an abortion on their own.
One such group is A Fund, Inc., which has helped people in Kentucky pay for abortions since 1993. Its president, Kate Cunningham, said getting an abortion got more complicated – and expensive – over the past year now that Kentuckians are traveling to clinics in other states.
Expenses for gas, a hotel room, the cost of the procedure add up.
Last June, Cunningham said her group spent about $112 per person to help 104 patients get abortions at EMW.
This February, they helped five patients get abortions out of state at an average cost of $570.
Cunningham said she’s heartened by the donations that have rolled in since the Bluegrass State lost abortion access.
“When the bans in Kentucky were publicized, people said, ‘I get so angry, Kate. I’m just sending you a check,’” she said.
Some people are pushing to restore abortion access through the courts. But they’ve had setbacks.
This week, Planned Parenthood and other plaintiffs asked a judge to dismiss a major lawsuit against both Kentucky’s near-total trigger ban on abortion and its ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.
That’s because in February the state Supreme Court ruled that abortion clinics – specifically, Planned Parenthood and EMW in Louisville – lack the necessary legal standing to pursue the case on behalf of their patients.
A pregnant patient still could sue directly to try to overturn the ban.
Tamarra Wieder, the Kentucky state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said they intend to eventually mount another legal challenge.
“I really want to stay with hope – that just because we have to dismiss this one case does not mean we won't be back in court,” she told LPM News.
A constitutional challenge to the abortion ban is still possible because voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the Kentucky Constitution last November.
Like EMW, Planned Parenthood can’t provide abortions in Kentucky anymore. But Wieder said it does help people find appointments at clinics in other states. She also said the past year has been hard on staff.
“It’s really difficult when you have patients begging and crying for you to provide care,” she told LPM News.
Dr. Coy Flowers of Lexington said the post-Roe world is hard on OB-GYNs, too. He leads Kentucky's chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
State law allows physicians to provide an abortion to save a patient’s life. But Flowers said it’s ambiguous enough that OB-GYNs fear they could be charged with a felony for providing a medically necessary abortion.
He said OB-GYNs also care for women whose pregnancies become nonviable due to a fetal anomaly. In that situation, patients still can’t get a legal abortion in Kentucky.
“OB-GYNs are distraught and sickened that that's the current state of affairs right now in our state,” he said. "And we're working every single day to make sure that patients receive the care that they need, whether it's in Kentucky or outside of Kentucky.
“Our heart breaks for those patients who have to go through this."
The abortion ban doesn’t affect 99% of what OB-GYNs do, Flowers said.
“I’m doing pap smears. I'm prescribing birth control. I'm taking care of irregular menstrual bleeding,” he said.
But the ban greatly impacts the 1% of the time when a patient’s pregnancy goes catastrophically wrong.
“Now that the laws have changed, and we're practicing under this cloak of ambiguity, that 1% just pervades everything else that an OB-GYN does,” he said.
It’s a new reality patients and their doctors are still working out how to navigate.