Politics

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the commonwealth’s only abortion provider are suing the state over a new abortion law that requires a doctor to conduct an ultrasound and provide a fetal description to a woman seeking an abortion.

The legislation was among a handful of conservative priorities rushed out of the General Assembly last week by Republicans, who had total control of the legislative process for the first time in state history after sweeping elections this fall.

William Sharp, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kentucky, called the law unconstitutional.

“Requiring doctors to show every woman ultrasound images and describe them to her — even against her will — violates longstanding constitutional principles, including the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity, and First Amendment freedoms,” said Sharp.

Gov. Matt Bevin signed the ultrasound abortion bill over the weekend, after lawmakers approved it on Saturday. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The General Assembly also approved a bill banning abortions during or after the 20th week of pregnancy. A statement from the ACLU said “legal analysis on that measure is now underway.”

“In their haste to pass these new abortion restrictions, the legislature took the highly unusual step of making both restrictions effective immediately upon the governor’s signature,” the ACLU said in a statement.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center — the only abortion provider in the state — as well as three physicians and patients, according to a news release.

 

Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, as is Bevin health secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson — standard practice for such a lawsuit.

Beshear’s office didn’t immediately respond to question asking if he would defend the new law.

“We have received the suit and are reviewing it,” said Terry Sebastian, Beshear’s communications director.

There’s recent historical precedent for the state’s  top law enforcement official refusing to defend a state law. Former Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend Kentucky’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2014 after U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn ruled against the law.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear instead hired an outside to defend the gay marriage ban. The case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was struck down in June 2015.

On Terry Meiners’ WHAS radio show on Monday, Bevin criticized the lawsuit and the ACLU specifically.

“It’s what liberals always do when they don’t like something. They sue, they run to the courts, hope to find some friendly voices and faces,” Bevin said. “(The ACLU) really don’t have any business meddling in our state in this way. And yet, this is America and it’s a right that they have. And frankly, America’s better for the fact that people have the ability to contest these things.”

Bevin went on to call Roe vs. Wade — the landmark Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed safe access to abortion — a “tortured interpretation of the law.”

“This interpretation was a pure, 100 percent fabrication on the part of the then-Supreme Court, codifying something that actually was not there,” Bevin said.

In the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of Western Kentucky, the ACLU argued that the law violates several constitutional standards, including the First Amendment right to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy.

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

This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.