Decision triggers Ky. law banning abortion unless woman faces risk of death or serious, permanent harm to a life-sustaining organ

Abortions were performed in this room at the Planned Parenthood center in Louisville.
(Photo by Ryan C. Hermens, Lexington Herald-Leader)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
Abortion became illegal in Kentucky Friday morning when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 6-3 decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created a limited constitutional right to the procedure.
Kentucky is one of 13 states with “trigger” laws that were passed to ban abortion if Roe was overturned, and state Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in an advisory that it took effect immediately.
Other Republican officials hailed the ruling, but Gov. Andy Beshear said the law is “extremist” because it has no exceptions for rape or incest, only a threat to the life of the woman. Abortion-rights advocates said women and girls would die as the result of illegal abortions.
Kentucky’s only two clinics that provide abortions, in Louisville, halted them, the Courier Journal reported. Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer didn’t say whether he would enforce the trigger law, but Craig Greenberg, the Democratic mayoral nominee, said he wouldn’t. The Republican nominee, Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf, said he would leave the issue to state and federal officials.
In Lexington, Councilman David Kloiber, the Democrat in the nonpartisan race for mayor, blasted the decision and said that if elected he would not use the law against “victims of crime,” an apparent reference to rape and incest. The law rules out prosecution of women who get abortions.
Mayor Linda Gorton, a nurse by trade and a Republican, sidestepped the question. Her spokeswoman, Susan Straub, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “We have not assessed if there will be an impact on local government. Generally, we are talking about state and federal actions and laws.” State laws are enforced by local prosecutors, and enforcement in Lexington is in doubt.

Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts told the Herald-Leader, “I’m going to take every case that comes to me by itself.” Angela Evans, who defeated Roberts in the Democratic primary and is unopposed in the fall election, is set to take office Jan. 1. “She said she would attend a Planned Parenthood rally downtown Friday night,” the Herald-Leader reports, quoting her: “I’m going to protect the rights of women as equal citizens of the country. I don’t believe this decision does that at all. It reduces women to less than equal citizens, as second-class citizens. I will not be inclined to prosecute women or those trying to help them make decisions . . . on when and how they reproduce.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said it will file a lawsuit arguing that the state Constitution provides for a legal right to an abortion, but in the Nov. 8 ballot has a constitutional amendment that would add the statement, “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to an abortion or require the funding of an abortion.”
The only exception to the state’s new abortion ban is when a physician determines through “reasonable medical judgment” that abortion is necessary to save the life of the woman or prevent substantial risk of death, or to prevent serious and permanent impairment to a life-sustaining organ, Cameron said.
He said the law “does not prohibit the proper use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy or before a pregnancy can be determined through conventional medical testing” and “has no application when a pregnant mother suffers a miscarriage. Nor does it prohibit medical treatment to help a mother in this circumstance.”
The Supreme Court decision will likely mean more work for organizations that have long helped poor women get money and transportation for abortions, such as the Kentucky Health Justice Networkreports the Herald-Leader’s Alex Acquisto: “Illinois is among the closest reliable ‘receiving states’ capable of taking on the roughly 4,000 Kentuckians who get abortions every year. The group is planning to grow its network of volunteers willing to drive patients to their appointments, as well as boost donations for gas money, child care and hotel stays.”
NBC News reported, “Legal scholars said the decision to overrule Roe is one of the few times the Supreme Court has ever invalidated an earlier decision that declared a constitutional right — and the only time it took away a right that had considerable public support.”
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