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Kentucky Legislature Enacts Draconian Abortion Ban, Overriding Governor’s Veto

As the 15-week ban takes effect, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood prepare to sue the state.

Demonstrators hold placards and banners during a press conference and protest by Democrats, who walked out during a debate on an anti-abortion bill in the House of Representatives in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 17, 2021.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood announced late Wednesday that they are suing Kentucky after the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature voted to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a sweeping 15-week abortion ban, an extreme measure inspired by the Mississippi law that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Kentucky Legislature’s vote put the new ban into effect immediately, forcing the state’s only two abortion providers to stop offering care. The law, sponsored by state Rep. Nancy Tate (R-27), imposes sweeping restrictions on medication abortion, which accounts for roughly half of all abortions carried out in Kentucky.

By forcing the state’s providers to cease operations, the law will effectively ban all abortions in Kentucky, reproductive rights advocates said. Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told the Wall Street Journal that the ban could make Kentucky the first state in nearly five decades to block access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood, the national ACLU, and the ACLU of Kentucky announced just on the heels of Wednesday’s vote that they are taking legal action in an effort to keep the providers open and operating while the ban, known as H.B. 3, is litigated. They hope, ultimately, to overturn the law, which they deemed “cruel and unconstitutional.”

The groups argued that compliance with the new law is impossible by design. Specifically, they noted that in order to offer medication abortion under the new restrictions, providers must complete a registration process that the state has not even set up yet. The organizations also contended that some of the law’s reporting requirements amount to violations of patient privacy.

“Make no mistake: the Kentucky Legislature’s sole goal with this law is to shut down health centers and completely eliminate abortion access in the state,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “But we haven’t lost hope — we’re getting to work. Trust us when we say that we will do everything in our power to stop this insidious law from preventing Kentuckians from accessing the vital, time-sensitive healthcare they need and deserve.”

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, argued that “the Kentucky Legislature was emboldened by a similar 15-week ban pending before the Supreme Court and other states passing abortion bans, including in Florida and Oklahoma, but this law and others like it remain unconstitutional.”

“We urge the court to block this law immediately,” Amiri added, “and ensure that people in Kentucky can continue to access abortion care.”

The Kentucky Legislature’s move came less than 48 hours after Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law a measure that bars healthcare professionals from performing abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Similar to the new Kentucky law and the Mississippi ban, the Oklahoma measure contains a narrow exception for pregnant patients whose lives are at risk.

The Oklahoma ban is set to take effect in August.

“With the Texas six-week ban in place, many people are traveling to Oklahoma to get care,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement earlier this week. “We’ve sued the state of Oklahoma ten times in the last decade to protect abortion access and we will challenge this law as well to stop this travesty from ever taking effect.”

In 2022, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have introduced 529 legislative proposals to restrict abortion, and such restrictions have taken effect in a number of states, from Arizona to Idaho to Wyoming.

The growing wave of state-level abortion bans comes as legislation aimed at codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law remains stuck in the U.S. Senate due to the opposition of every Republican and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who joined the GOP in filibustering the legislation in late February.

In a statement following the Kentucky Legislature’s vote on Wednesday, U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker — who is vying for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) seat — said that “women have officially been told their lives don’t matter in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

“H.B. 3 is abhorrent, unconstitutional, and absolutely shameful,” said Booker. “Today’s actions only underscore how critical it is that the United States Senate pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which is exactly what I intend on doing when I am elected this November.”

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