Politics

Lawyers for Kentucky’s only abortion clinic and Planned Parenthood on Thursday grilled a state official during the second day of a licensing battle taking place in federal court.

Robert Silverthorn, the inspector general for Kentucky’s health cabinet, defended the state’s aggressive enforcement of transfer agreements — contracts that abortion providers are required to make with a hospital and ambulance service.

Silverthorn said that the agreements ensure that emergency responders and hospitals are acquainted with an abortion clinic’s features.

“It would be very helpful to have those relationships established and familiarity with the facility in place,” he said.

Abortion rights groups say the transfer agreements are intended to make it more difficult to provide abortions in the state.

The license of EMW Women’s Surgical Center could be revoked as a result of the case, meaning Kentucky would be the only state in the nation without an abortion provider.

The clinic is suing Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration for rejecting its transfer agreements and threatening to revoke its license.

Planned Parenthood joined the suit — the state also found its transfer agreements to be inadequate.

Silverthorn testified that he helped design new transfer agreement requirements enacted by the state in June. Under the “emergency regulation,” clinics must now have a legal contract with a hospital in the same county and no farther than 20 minutes away.

On Wednesday, EMW owner Ernest Marshall testified that his attempts to secure a new transfer agreement with a hospital and ambulance service in the Louisville area have been “fruitless.”

Marshall suggested that members of the Bevin administration had pressured hospitals to deny the agreements.

Silverthorn said Thursday that hospitals are responsible for their own actions.

“If anybody was impeding, it was probably the hospitals,” he said. “It wasn’t the state.”

Jennifer Wolsing, an attorney for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, displayed a spreadsheet created by Silverthorn that featured distances between Kentucky cities and abortion providers in surrounding states.

Silverthorn said that Kentucky women seeking abortions would still have “options” in other states if EMW’s license is revoked and that most points in Kentucky are within 150 miles of an outside abortion provider.

Lawyers representing EMW and Planned Parenthood said the spreadsheet doesn’t consider driving time, cost of the procedure or abortion restrictions in the surrounding states.

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