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Kentucky judge reinstitutes state abortion ban, reversing lower court

Abortion rights supporters protest at the Kentucky Capitol in April. (Bruce Schreiner/AP)
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A Kentucky judge reinstituted the state’s near-total abortion ban Monday, reversing a lower court’s order from less than two weeks ago that temporarily allowed the procedures to continue.

The decision by Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Larry E. Thompson means abortions are again illegal in the state, unless a woman or other pregnant individual is at risk of death or serious permanent injury, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Health-care workers who provide abortion services can face up to five years in prison, though pregnant individuals are not subject to criminal liability.

Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban took effect immediately after the court’s decision, and the state’s two clinics ceased providing abortions on Monday.

“For the time being, abortion is illegal in Kentucky,” Samuel Crankshaw, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which is representing one of the clinics, said in a statement, adding, “Our client, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, will stop providing abortion care for the time being.”

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s other clinic, also stopped providing abortion care, he added.

“No Kentuckian should ever be forced to remain pregnant against their will,” Crankshaw said. “Despite this setback, we will never stop fighting for your right to make the best decisions for yourself.”

The order came in response to a request by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) that the appellate court overturn a July 22 decision by Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry, who had sided with abortion providers.

Last month, Perry granted an injunction preventing Kentucky’s abortion ban from taking effect after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. Perry sided with the two abortion clinics, which said the ban was unconstitutional because it went against the rights to privacy and self-determination enshrined in the state constitution.

In his ruling, Perry reasoned that there was a “substantial likelihood” the ban was unconstitutional in Kentucky and blocked abortion restrictions from taking effect until a final decision on their constitutionality could be made by state courts.

But Thompson overruled Perry, on grounds that allowing abortions to proceed — even temporarily — is unfair because the procedures would be irreversible should state courts later rule the abortion restrictions to be constitutional. “The Court emphasizes, however, that it expresses no opinion whatsoever as to the merits of the underlying dispute,” he added.

Ky. Republicans override veto, impose sweeping abortion restrictions

Cameron welcomed Thompson’s ruling. “I appreciate the court’s decision to allow Kentucky’s pro-life laws to take effect while we continue to vigorously defend the constitutionality of these important protections for women and unborn children,” Kentucky’s attorney general said.

Cameron is ultimately seeking the state Supreme Court’s permission for the Human Life Protection Act, which bans abortions with almost no exceptions, and the Heartbeat Law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, to be enforced as he litigates against abortion rights advocates who say the bans go against Kentucky’s constitution.

Cameron is running for governor and has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump.

Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky — one of the two reproductive health clinics that are petitioning courts to rescind Kentucky’s abortion ban — said it will help residents find abortion options outside the state.

Court battles over abortion are proceeding in Michigan, Louisiana, North Dakota and Wyoming, among other states, according to The Washington Post’s tracker.

Katie Shepherd contributed to this report.

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