Politics

The last abortion provider in Kentucky will be allowed to stay open while it sues the state’s health cabinet for threatening to revoke its license.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers temporarily halted the shuttering of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, ordering the state to allow the clinic to continue operating.

“Plaintiffs have laid out specific facts in their verified complaint showing that the rights of their patients would be immediately and irreparably harmed absent a temporary restraining from this Court,” the order states.

“The entry of a temporary restraining order is in the public interest because the public is interested in the prevention of the potential unconstitutional enforcement of state law.”

Stivers also wrote that the plaintiffs have a “strong likelihood of success” in their suit against the state.

The judge’s order blocks the state from “enforcing, attempting to enforce, threatening to enforce, or otherwise requiring compliance” with regulations dealing with the transfer agreements for two weeks.

EMW was scheduled to be shut down Monday after the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services notified the clinic that its license to perform abortions would be revoked on Monday, April 3.

The state claims that EMW’s required agreements with a local hospital and ambulance service were deficient and ordered the clinic to shut down abortion operations. The health cabinet told the clinic in a letter dated March 13 that its license would be revoked, saying that renewal of the clinic’s license last year “was in error.”

The suit was filed earlier this week by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the clinic.

“The state’s bureaucratic sleight of hand is fooling no one,” ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri wrote in a statement. “This is an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky, plain and simple. We are fighting to keep this from happening.”

Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the cabinet hadn’t been given a chance to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday.

“The Cabinet is surprised and disappointed the Court entered a temporary restraining order without input from the Cabinet and without first ascertaining the status of communications between both parties,” Hogan wrote in an email.

Hogan also said EMW’s license was “never in immediate jeopardy” and that the temporary restraining order was unnecessary.

“The Cabinet had informed counsel for EMW no final decision would be made regarding the abortion facility’s license until the administrative due process hearing required by Kentucky statutory law was complete,” Hogan wrote. “The Cabinet looks forward to defending the statutorily-required transfer agreements, enacted to protect the health and welfare of women who undergo abortions, in the state administrative proceedings and before the Court.”

The plaintiffs argue that the clinic has properly filed transfer agreements and that it should have been given a hearing about the revocation of its license.

They also say that that the state’s actions were in retaliation to EMW’s challenge to the state’s new ultrasound abortion requirement, which is also pending in federal court.

Under that law, doctors are required to conduct an ultrasound on women seeking an abortion, narrate a detailed description of the unborn fetus and provide audio of the heartbeat.

EMW is the only clinic that provides abortions in Kentucky.

The Bevin administration last year brought a similar lawsuit against Planned Parenthood in Louisville, which is currently not providing abortions. A trial court judge ruled against the state, though it was appealed and is currently pending.

Bevin’s administration also successfully sued EMW’s Lexington clinic last year, saying the facility provided abortions without a license. The facility closed in January.

This story has been updated.

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