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Kentucky abortion ban stays on hold while case plays out

A state judge extended an order halting enforcement of two laws that would ban most abortions in Kentucky, leaving the procedure legally available for now.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) — A block on a pair of Kentucky anti-abortion laws remains in effect after a Jefferson County judge found Friday that the laws might violate the state constitution.

The underlying lawsuit was filed on June 27 in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and targets two separate Kentucky abortion laws.

Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the only remaining abortion providers in Kentucky, claimed in the lawsuit that both a ban on abortions after six weeks and a so-called "trigger ban" – designed to automatically ban abortions after Roe was overturned – are unconstitutional.

 The six-week ban would make it a crime to provide an abortion after that length of pregnancy unless it is to prevent the pregnant patient’s death or to prevent a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Similarly, the trigger ban only permits abortions to prevent death or permanent impairment of the mother.

The laws were temporarily blocked last month by Jefferson County Judge Mitch Perry, who issued a 20-page injunction on Friday extending the block after finding the abortion providers had shown a likelihood of success.

 “The plaintiffs have demonstrated at the very least a substantial question as to the merits regarding the constitutionality of both the trigger ban and the six week ban. As such, they are entitled to injunctive relief until the matter can be fully resolved on the merits,” Perry wrote.

The ruling keeps abortion legal in Kentucky for the time being, an outcome that was celebrated by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, who issued a joint statement on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“Once again, the courts have rightly stopped Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s relentless efforts to ban abortion, which would have devastating consequences for Kentuckians," they said. "No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will or flee the state to access essential health care. Kentuckians have a right to abortion under the state constitution, and we’ll continue fighting for that right so that every person in the commonwealth can get the care they need.”

Cameron, a Republican, has openly supported the two laws and had asked the court to lift the initial temporary block.

"A Louisville judge’s decision today to continue halting Kentucky’s Human Life Protection Act and Heartbeat Law is disappointing, and we will seek appellate relief," Cameron said in a statement Friday. "The judge’s suggestion that Kentucky’s Constitution contains a right to abortion is not grounded in the text and history of our state’s governing document. We will continue our steadfast defense of these bipartisan laws that represent the Commonwealth’s commitment to the lives of the unborn."

The attorney general had also filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that the plaintiffs lacked standing, an argument that Perry disagreed with in his ruling.

The judge found that the plaintiffs had presented strong arguments that the pair of laws were unconstitutional, with the six-week ban violating individual rights for privacy, equal protection and religious freedom.

On the religious freedom grounds, Perry found that law uses Christian religious tenets to establish when life begins.

“This is not a particularly close call. As discussed above, by ordaining that life begins at the very moment of fertilization, the General Assembly has adopted the religious tenets of specific sects or denominations,” Perry wrote. “The General Assembly ignored the contending positions of other faiths regarding the origins and beginnings of life.”

In regards to the trigger ban, Perry found that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that it lacked clarity regarding the date of its enforceability and that it created a risk of arbitrary enforcement by prosecutors across the state.

With the hold in place for now, the case will continue its way through the court for a final ruling. In addition, abortion rights will be on the ballot for Kentuckians in November in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.

“To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion,” the proposed amendment reads.

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