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Kentucky Governor Is Targeting Abortion Clinics — and He’s Succeeding

It will be more difficult than ever to access a safe, legal abortion in Kentucky.

It took an off year election and a backlash against marriage equality to push Republican Governor Matt Bevin into office, and he has worked non-stop since his inauguration to reward the conservatives who came out on November 3, 2015 and helped him secure a victory.

“Bevin, a Republican often at odds with more mainstream elements of his party, solidly beat Conway 53%-44% in a race that Bevin was not expected to win by any significant margin,” CNN reported back on election day. “The wealthy businessman has pledged to shutdown the state’s healthcare exchange and he’s also expressed concerns about the expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky under the Affordable Care Act.”

Bevin has already started implementing his campaign promise to undo Kynect, the state’s ACA health insurance exchange. Now it appears that his attempt to end legal abortion in the state has been moving just as quickly.

The state of Kentucky is home to just two abortion clinics — one EMW center in Louisville and one EMW location in Lexington. Because Kentucky is surrounded by other states hostile to abortion and with low access, the clinics see patients not just locally, but often from Ohio and Indiana, as well.

According to 2011 data from Guttmacher, about 98 percent of all counties in the state are without providers. That leaves about 74 percent of the state’s women without access to a clinic within their county.

Bucking most national trends, abortion access was on the verge of increasing in Kentucky, though. At the end of 2015, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky sought a license to extend abortion services into their Louisville Planned Parenthood clinics, a move that was approved by then Democratic Governor Steve Beshear’s administration. In order to finish the licensing, the clinic was told by the health department that “a facility must be performing services for which it seeks licensure so that the survey [inspection] process may fully evaluate compliance with applicable regulations.”

Of course, that all changed the moment Bevin was sworn in. Rather than proceed with licensing, Bevin blocked the clinic from operating at all, and now has fined the health care organization $900,000 for performing 23 “illegal” abortions.

“Although I am an unapologetically prolife individual, I recognize and accept that there are some laws on the books that I do not necessarily agree with. However, we are a nation of laws, and my job is to ensure that they are followed regardless of my personal opinion,” Bevin said in a statement. “This administration will have no tolerance for the type of brazen disregard that Planned Parenthood has shown for both the safety of women and the rule of law. We will hold Planned Parenthood accountable for knowingly endangering their patients by providing illegal abortions at a facility that was not properly licensed nor prepared to handle an emergency.”

In case there was any doubt that this was politically motivated, the University of Louisville Hospital announced that it has been strong-armed by the Bevin administration into not working with the new clinic. “This week, an attorney for University of Louisville Hospital said they were pressured to terminate an agreement to provide emergency care for Planned Parenthood patients, saying the hospital’s state funding was at stake,” the Associated Press reports.

Between the massive lawsuit, the threats against any entity willing to work with them and an extremely hostile governor, it appears highly unlikely that the Planned Parenthood will be able to offer abortions again anytime soon. But refusing to allow a new provider was just the tip of the iceberg for Bevin, who has now sued to close the EMW clinic in Lexington, too, saying the clinic — which has been operating for 25 years — was not properly licensed as an abortion facility.

“The state is seeking an injunction to close the clinic until it is licensed, and it has asked a judge to impose the maximum fines allowed under the law. No specific dollar amount was included in the lawsuit,” reports the Herald-Leader. “Lexington attorney Scott White, who is representing the clinic, said Thursday evening that the clinic is operating legally, as it has since 1989, and that it has not received any report from the state. ‘We look forward to defending our position in court,’ he said, adding that EMW also has an abortion clinic in Louisville.”

Kentucky has now dropped to just one clinic, when it nearly had three providers just two months ago. At the same time, the state has also passed a mandatory 24 hour in person waiting period that will require most people to come to the clinic twice to meet with a doctor. And it is currently debating a bill requiring mandatory ambulatory surgical center building regulations and mandatory local hospital admitting privileges requirements, too, despite the same bill being questioned by the US Supreme Court. Bevin is expected to sign anything that comes to his desk.

With just one clinic operating, a 24 hour, two trip waiting period, and the sole option for terminating a pregnancy at one of the most aggressively protested clinics in the nation, it will be more difficult than ever to access a safe, legal abortion in Kentucky.

If Bevin has had this much impact in just a few months, who knows if there will be any accessible abortion in the state by the time his term is over.

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