Nonprofits Defend Kentucky’s Last Abortion Clinic as State Harasses Women’s Health Providers

Matt Bevin” by Gage Skidmore

April 1, 2017; Jezebel and CNN, “Health”

The American Civil Liberties Union has stepped in to try to keep the state of Kentucky’s sole abortion provider functioning. According to the Courier-Journal, the dispute with the state involves the signed “transfer agreements” that Kentucky state law requires abortion clinics to have with hospitals and ambulance services should a medical emergency arise for a patient. Critics say the transfer agreements are ridiculous because hospitals would need to accept patients in need of their services regardless of what agreements are in place.

The clinic, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, said that even though its license is good until May 2017, it received a letter out of the blue saying it was out of compliance. Inspector General Robert Silverthorn, who oversees the licensure, said in the letter to EMW that its transfer agreements are deficient and don’t adequately protect patients.

The state’s new finding that the agreements are deficient amounts to a “bureaucratic sleight of hand,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This is an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky, plain and simple. We are fighting to keep this from happening.”

These tactics are nothing new in the state. According to CNN, this is part of a series of new laws by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin that tighten access to abortion in Kentucky and, some argue, install unnecessary roadblocks to women seeking the procedure who have already made extremely complex decisions with their doctors. The state now requires that the physician or technician conducting the abortion perform an ultrasound, describe and display the ultrasound images to the mother, and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat to the mother before she may have an abortion. The state also outlawed abortion after 20 weeks and did not exempt survivors of rape or incest from this new legislation.

The Bevin administration began suing abortion clinics over a year ago. According to USA Today, last year, they forced the abortion clinic operated by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky out of Kentucky in a similar manner, getting them to suspend abortion services while they attempted to resolve licensing disputes. KentuckyOne Health canceled a recent transfer agreement with Planned Parenthood to accept patients at the University of Louisville Hospital; according to Planned Parenthood lawyer Thomas Clay, KentuckyOne CEO Ruth Brinkley cited outside pressure and the fear of losing state funds as her reason for rescinding the agreement.

The ACLU and EMW have filed a separate lawsuit this year against the provisions, which is ongoing. Donald L. Cox, a lawyer for EMW, told the Courier-Journal that he believes the administration won’t stop until no woman in Kentucky can access an abortion. A Status of Women report released in 2015 noted that women held less than 17 percent of the seats in the Kentucky State House. The same report also gave the state of Kentucky a D- grade when it comes to opportunities for health and wellbeing and a C when it came to reproductive rights prior to Governor Bevin’s election.—Carrie Collins-Fadell