Health Kentucky Politics

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to compel the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to comply with its obligations in a recent abortion law

The law, which makes it harder for minors to get abortions, restricts abortion medication and bans abortion at 15 weeks, was passed in April despite a veto by Gov. Andy Beshear. 

It outlines new regulations the Cabinet is to implement, including the creation of new forms for abortion providers. It’s also tasked with creating and maintaining the Kentucky Abortion-Inducing Drug Certification Program. 

Cameron’s lawsuit states that under the law, the Cabinet had to comply with some obligations immediately, while recognizing that the law provided 60 days for other parts of compliance.

That 60-day mark was Sunday, and Cameron’s suit states there’s been no evidence the Cabinet has set up any of the new programs and forms. 

He refuted Beshear’s comments in his April 8 veto that House Bill 3 did not appropriate any monies to the Cabinet, and that the requirements amounted to an unfunded mandate “which will result in underfunded essential programs and duties carried out by the Cabinet,” Beshear’s veto reads, in part. 

The governor said it would require close to $1 million for initial program setup.

Cameron said in the lawsuit the Cabinet could use part of the $10.4 million in the “General Administration and Program Support” the General Assembly appropriated to the Cabinet in 2021 through the end of July.

“Governor Beshear has a duty to faithfully execute the law, but he has failed to implement important provisions of House Bill 3,” Cameron said in a news release. “His administration is required to create forms and set forth regulations that protect women’s health and unborn babies, including regulating abortion-inducing drugs. Failure to act is not an option, and our lawsuit asks the court to direct the governor and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to follow the law.”

The law has an emergency clause and went into effect immediately. Following its passage, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU challenged the new law, saying providers couldn’t comply with the new regulations not yet in place, such as the new forms and programs the Cabinet is responsible for. 

A federal judge has partially blocked the law, pending the implementation of the new regulations. The 15-week ban in the law is also blocked, pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court expected this month, which could further restrict or ban abortion access in the Commonwealth. 

The ACLU, which represents EMW Women’s Center, as well as Planned Parenthood, confirmed this week that they have not yet received information on new requirements for the Cabinet being met. 

In a joint statement issued Tuesday after Cameron announced the lawsuit, the organizations reiterated the need for the block, which allows the state’s two providers to legally continue abortions in the state. 

“The district court was correct to block House Bill 3 until the mechanism for complying is provided,” it reads. “The attorney general can file a suit, but it does not negate that fact nor does it change the status of the preliminary injunction. Abortion is still legal in Kentucky.”

In a response Tuesday to WFPL News, Susan Dunlap, executive director for the Cabinet’s Office of Public Affairs provided this statement:

“This lawsuit is a baseless and blatant political stunt,” it reads. “The cabinet has not refused to comply with any requirements and has told the attorney general that it will work through the federal court that has jurisdiction over this matter and which has issued an injunction in this case. In response, the attorney general sent threatening letters to the cabinet asking us to ignore the court’s orders and today defied the federal court by trying to go around it.”

Earlier this month, the Cabinet filed a letter sent from the attorney general’s office in late May.

It asks the Cabinet to confirm it would fulfill the obligations laid out in the bill “on or before the 60-day statutory deadline,” or the attorney general would enforce compliance. 

In a response to that letter, an attorney for the Cabinet wrote that Cameron’s assertions that it was ignoring requirements was false. 

“As you know, the Cabinet has informed the court otherwise on numerous occasions,” the letter read, in part. 

“The Cabinet will continue to comply with the law, including continuing its work to fulfill its obligations under HB 3 as set forth in the court’s orders.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the ACLU is representing EMW Women’s Surgical Center in the federal case. 

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.