Federal judge blocks 2nd Kentucky abortion law within days

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — For the second time in days, a federal judge on Wednesday issued an order temporarily blocking a new Kentucky law aimed at imposing more restrictions on abortion.

U.S. District Judge David J. Hale granted another temporary restraining order sought by the American Civil Liberties Union in its legal feud with the state over abortion. The latest order temporarily halted a measure that would ban abortion for women seeking to end their pregnancies because of the gender, race or disability of the fetus.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the measure Tuesday. Bevin spokesman Woody Maglinger said in an email Wednesday night, “The notion that Roe v. Wade protects race-based, gender-based, and disability-based abortions is disturbing. This is but the opening salvo of this legal battle.”

Last week, the judge temporarily blocked enforcement of another new Kentucky law that would mostly ban abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

ACLU attorneys said the heartbeat bill would prohibit 90 percent of abortions in Kentucky.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit to block both measures passed by Kentucky’s GOP-dominated legislature. It went to court on behalf of the only abortion clinic in Kentucky, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. Both laws took effect immediately upon Bevin’s signature until the court intervened.

“Time and again, the Kentucky legislature and Gov. Matt Bevin have tried to prevent patients from seeking care at EMW, and each time the federal district court has stopped them,” ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri said after the judge’s order Wednesday.

The ACLU will ask that the two laws be kept on hold pending a resolution of the case, she said.

Kentucky lawmakers and GOP-led legislatures in several other states have pushed anti-abortion measures in hopes of getting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The push comes amid rising optimism among conservatives that the restrictions might prevail in the reconfigured Supreme Court that includes President Donald Trump’s appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The Kentucky law blocked Wednesday would require doctors performing abortions to certify in writing that, to their knowledge, their patient did not want to end her pregnancy because of concern over her unborn child’s sex, race, color, national origin or disability. Doctors violating the measure would face felony prosecution and the loss of their medical license. Any clinic where a violation occurred would lose its license. Pregnant women would not face penalties.

Supporters of the measures have said it would ban discrimination against fetuses because of race, gender or disability.

The ACLU argues that it removes a woman’s right to an abortion if the state “disapproves of her reason” for the procedure.

The ACLU has filed four separate lawsuits challenging a series of abortion laws in Kentucky that mostly passed after the GOP took total control of the state legislature in 2017. It’s the most lawsuits the ACLU has pending against any state over abortion policy, Amiri has said.

Federal judges struck down two Kentucky abortion laws in recent years, and the state appealed both rulings. A trial was held last year in a third lawsuit challenging a Kentucky law aimed at a common second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies. A federal judge has not yet ruled.

Attorneys for the ACLU and other groups are seeking $1.5 million from the state to cover attorneys’ fees and other costs in one of the cases that led to an abortion law being struck down.