Politics

Lawyers representing Kentucky’s only abortion provider squared off against Gov. Matt Bevin’s legal team in federal court Wednesday amid a licensing battle that will determine if the state becomes the first in the nation without an abortion provider.

Bevin’s lawyer told a federal court that if EMW Women’s Surgical Center is shut down, abortion seekers could go to surrounding states to get the procedure.

“Most of them have iPhone, most of them have cars, most of them have what they need to get to where they need to get,” Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt said.

Listing cities like Cincinnati, Knoxville, St. Louis and Charleston, West Virginia, Pitt claimed there is no place in Kentucky that is farther than 150 miles from an abortion provider outside of the state.

Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU lawyer representing the clinic, said Kentucky shouldn’t rely on other states to provide abortions.

“It doesn’t take into account all of the burdens that come into play in terms of travel distance,” Amiri said. “No court has allowed a state to shirk its constitutional responsibilities by pointing to a neighboring state.

The Bevin administration tried to revoke the Louisville abortion provider’s license earlier this year, claiming the clinic didn’t have proper agreements with a hospital and ambulance service.

EMW is suing the state in federal court over the move, saying that the action would amount to an undue burden on Kentuckians seeking abortions.

The clinic also claims that the agreements with hospitals and ambulance services — called transfer agreements — aren’t medically necessary.

“A transfer agreement is something made up out of whole cloth in order to try to stop abortions in this state,” said Donald Cox, a lawyer representing EMW. “It’s not a regular kind of medical protocol that’s normally used.”

A judge temporarily blocked the revocation of EMW’s license while the trial continues to unfold.

Dr. Ernest Marshall, owner of EMW, testified that he had tried to secure a new transfer agreement with hospitals in the Louisville area, but several requests had been denied.

Marshall and lawyers representing the clinic suggested that hospital administrators were pressured by Bevin into denying the transfer agreement.

U.S District Judge Greg Stivers said he wasn’t interested in hearing about “subjective” claims that the Bevin administration was trying to make abortions more restrictive, and encouraged lawyers to focus on the “objective” outcomes of policy.

“It’s my interest that the evidence would be much better directed to the objective purpose,” Stivers said.

The trial will resume on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. and is expected to last until at least Friday.

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