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Planned Parenthood fights Kentucky abortion ban passed by GOP lawmakers

The provider says a new law passed through a veto override is an attempt to completely eliminate abortion access in the Bluegrass State.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) — A law vetoed by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear but still passed by a Republican supermajority in the Kentucky Legislature effectively bans abortions in the commonwealth in violation of patients' constitutional rights, Planned Parenthood claims in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Kentucky House Bill 3, put into effect by state lawmakers on Wednesday after they voted to override the governor's veto, has immediate and far-reaching consequences for at least 1 million Kentuckians, according the complaint.

The omnibus bill imposes new reporting requirements for any facility or physician that performs abortions, as well as new restrictions on minors seeking to have the procedure, and also bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Beshear, who vetoed the bill after it was passed by the legislature, argues the bill will cost taxpayers over $1 million and is effectively an unfunded mandate. It was sponsored by Republican Nancy Tate of Brandenburg.

The veto override spurred protesters to the state Capitol in Frankfort on Wednesday. Representatives for the commonwealth's only two abortion providers, EMW Women's Surgical Services and Planned Parenthood, said their clinics have been forced to stop providing abortions until a judge issues a ruling on their challenge to the law.

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood says immediate compliance is impossible because the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has yet to publish reporting forms required by the law.

"It is arbitrary and unconstitutional to enforce penalties for noncompliance while failing to provide a means of immediate compliance," the complaint states. "Plaintiff, in fairness, must be granted time to comply with these sweeping changes to the provision of abortion care. Otherwise, the existence of regulatory requirements uncoupled from the means to comply with them will result in a complete ban on abortion within Kentucky."

Another alarming feature of the law, according to Planned Parenthood, is the amount of personal information required to be disclosed by the patient to the commonwealth's Office of Vital Statistics. Included among new reporting requirements are the patient's city, county, and zip code; her age, race, and ethnicity; the age of the father of the fetus; any previous live births, pregnancies, or abortions; and the reason for the abortion.

"By mandating the disclosure of individually identifiable health information of the most sensitive nature (abortions, sexually transmitted infections, victim of abuse or trafficking, etc.), the act requires the unlawful disclosure of private medical information about an individual's sexual life and procreation (among others) in violation of their fundamental right to privacy," the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)

It continues, "The prospect of such disclosures will dissuade some women from seeking a wanted abortion, particularly if they have a need to keep their abortion decision from an abusive parent, partner or spouse. As such, the act imposes an undue burden on a women's right to access abortion in Kentucky."

The lawsuit says the small size of some counties in Kentucky means it would be possible to discover the identity of some women who seek abortions, even though disclosure of a patient's name is not required under the law.

Abortion providers who fail to comply with the law's reporting requirements are subject to fines and criminal penalties, and providers are also no longer able to send abortion-inducing medications to their patients through the mail.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a statement when the law took effect that the Kentucky Legislature's only goal was "to shut down health centers and completely eliminate abortion access in the state."

"But we haven’t lost hope — we’re getting to work," it said. "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 health care they need and deserve. We are confident that the courts will stop this cruel and unconstitutional omnibus. Everyone deserves to make their own decisions about their bodies, lives, and futures.” 

Planned Parenthood seeks an immediate injunction to prevent HB 3 from taking effect, as well as a judgment the law is unconstitutional.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron provided the following statement to Courthouse News when asked to comment on the litigation: “The General Assembly passed HB 3 to protect life and promote the health and safety of women, and we are prepared to earnestly defend this new law against the legal challenge from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU."

Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that Kentucky's Republican lawmakers were spurred to action by similar restrictions in other states.

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

Planned Parenthood is represented by lead attorney Michael Abate of Kaplan, Johnson, Abate, and Bird in Louisville.

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