Saturday, January 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Federal judge blocks enforcement of Kentucky law restricting abortions

Absent a temporary restraining order, abortion providers either had to halt all abortions or face felony charges.

(CN) — A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a recently enacted law critics say would effectively ban abortions in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

The legislation, which bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, imposes new reporting requirements for abortion providers and puts new restrictions on minors seeking to have the procedure, was vetoed by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. But a Republican supermajority in the Kentucky Legislature overrode the veto April 13, and the law became effective immediately.

Planned Parenthood claimed in a federal lawsuit filed April 14 that immediate compliance is impossible because the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services has yet to publish reporting forms required by the law. Short of an order blocking enforcement of the law, Planned Parenthood argues it must halt all abortions or face felony charges against its clinics and medical providers for failure to comply with the law.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings agreed, issuing an order restraining enforcement of the law for at least 14 days. The judge, however, said she was not ruling on the constitutionality of the state law in Thursday’s order.

In discussing the grounds for the temporary restraining order, Judge Jennings, a Donald Trump appointee, cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, which recognized a constitutionally protected right to a pre-viability abortion under the 14th Amendment.

“Because Plaintiff cannot comply with HB 3 and thus cannot legally perform abortion services, its patients face a substantial obstacle to exercising their rights to a pre-viability abortion,” the judge wrote. “This undue burden on the patients’ rights to a pre-viability abortion would likely violate substantive due process.”

The legislation, titled HB 3, requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to create or amend at least 10 forms to comply with the new law, which Attorney General Daniel Cameron conceded to the court have not yet been created or distributed.

“Plaintiff has no guarantee that HB 3 will not be enforced against it or its providers,” the judge wrote. “The plain language of HB 3 gives the Attorney General authority to enforce HB 3 whether or not the Cabinet has created the forms or promulgated the requisite regulations. Nowhere in Attorney General Cameron’s response was it represented that his office would not enforce HB 3 until the Cabinet creates a means to comply with it.”

Planned Parenthood said in a statement it was pleased with Thursday’s ruling

"We're grateful for the temporary restraining order (TRO) restricting this egregious abortion ban from continuing to block a constitutionally protected right to basic care,” Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, said in a statement issued Thursday. “This is a win, but it is only the first step. We’re prepared to fight for our patients’ right to basic health in court and to continue doing everything in our power in ensure abortion access is permanently secured in Kentucky.”

In a statement released Thursday, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said, “We are disappointed that the court chose to temporarily halt enforcement of the entire law. This law is constitutional, and we look forward to continuing to defend it.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...