Attorneys for Kentucky's socially conservative governor and the state's only abortion clinic prepared to open their latest legal fight Tuesday, this time over a lawsuit challenging a state law that abortion-rights advocates say would ban a second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's legal team describes the procedure as "brutal and grotesque," tearing apart a fetus "piece by piece." The clinic's lawyers say the procedure is the most common second-trimester abortion method, is safe and rarely results in major complications for patients.
The measure — passed this year by Kentucky's GOP-led legislature and signed by Bevin — was suspended soon after the clinic filed the suit, pending the outcome of the trial that was set to begin in U.S. District Court in Louisville. The trial is expected to last several days.
Before the trial began, a group of anti-abortion activists gathered in a prayer circle outside the federal courthouse.
One of the participants, Joyce Ostrander of Lexington, said she wanted to show her support for what she considers a "reasonable statute."
"Why would anybody defend dismembering a live, unborn child when there are other options?" she said.
Lawyers for the clinic say the new law amounts to an unconstitutional ban on an abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation." The procedure was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions done in Kentucky in 2016, according to state statistics.
The state's lawyers argue the law would still allow use of the D&E procedure, but only after doctors use a "more humane way" to induce fetal death through another procedure.
Clinic attorneys note that similar laws in other states were struck down by federal judges, though some cases are being appealed.
Under the Kentucky law, abortion providers violating the law would be guilty of a felony carrying up to five years in prison. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.
Kentucky Republicans have pushed through measures putting limits and conditions on abortion since assuming complete control of the state's legislature in 2017. Those actions have spurred a series of legal fights between Bevin's administration and Kentucky's only remaining abortion clinic, EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville. The clinic's legal team includes lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Two abortion-related laws have been struck down in court since, but Bevin's administration has appealed both cases.
One of those laws, enacted in early 2017, would require doctors to perform ultrasounds and then show and describe the ultrasound images to pregnant women, who could avert their eyes. The other law, passed two decades ago, required a Kentucky abortion clinic to have written agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies. Bevin's administration cited that law in a fight that threatened the state's last abortion clinic.