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Court Upholds Kentucky's Ultrasound Abortion Law

The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a sentence appeal for a man convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.
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The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a sentence appeal for a man convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.

A federal judge has upheld a 2017 Kentucky law requiring doctors to show patients an ultrasound before performing an abortion.

Last year, a lower court blocked implementation of the law. That decision was appealed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Writing for the majority of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, Judge John Bush wrote that the ultrasound law does not infringe on doctors’ First Amendment rights. Bush was appointed by President Donald Trump.

Bush wrote that the law provides relevant information to patients.

“The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her,” Bush wrote. “It shows her what, or whom, she is consenting to terminate. That this information might persuade a woman to change her mind does not render it suspect under the First Amendment.

Bush also wrote that mandating a doctor show and describe an ultrasound is like other informed consent practices in medicine.

“As part of States’ regulation of the medical profession, they may require doctors to provide information to their patients to ensure patients can give their informed consent for an abortion, like for any other medical procedure,” Bush wrote.

In a statement after Thursday's ruling, Bevin said Kentucky is leading the charge in implementing strong "pro-life protections for its citizens."

"We applaud the decision by the Sixth Circuit, which affirms the commonsense notion that patients should be well equipped with relevant information before making important medical decisions,” Bevin wrote. “I am grateful to be governor of a state that values every human life, and we are committed to continue our fight on behalf of the most vulnerable among us."

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of Kentucky’s only abortion facility, the EMW Clinic in Louisville. The ACLU argued that the law violated doctors’ free speech rights by requiring them to describe the ultrasound even if patients demand that they don’t.

“Anybody who’s ever had a medical procedure performed knows what informed consent looks like,” ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told WFPL last summer.

Bevin’s deputy general counsel argued at the time that the law made sure that patients seeking abortions are more fully informed because “not every patient understands the consequences of the abortion procedure.”

Similar laws have passed in 14 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that gathers data about reproductive health. Courts have blocked the policies in two states other than Kentucky.

The ACLU didn’t immediately respond to request for comment. However, it has three options: It could seek a rehearing, a review of the decision before the full appeals court, or seek an appeal in the Supreme Court.

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This story has been updated. 

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.