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Most legal abortion access would disappear automatically in Ky. if Roe is overturned

Abortion rights protesters in downtown Louisville on May 4, 2022.
Abortion rights protesters in downtown Louisville on May 4, 2022.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court started issuing the first of the more than 30 opinions expected this session. One of the most anticipated is a high-profile Mississippi case that could overturn the 1973 landmark case Roe v Wade, which codified federal protections for abortion up to certain stages of pregnancy. 

Abortions are currently available at Kentucky’s two providers – both in Louisville – but that could go away if Roe is overturned. 

Kentucky is one of 13 states with a so-called “trigger law,” legislation that bans abortion if Roe is overturned. 

The 2019 law would make it a Class D felony, with up to 5 years in prison, for any person to perform a surgical abortion or provide abortion medication to end a pregnancy.

The only exception is if an abortion is necessary to prevent death or “serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ” of the pregnant person, according to the law. The patient themselves would not face a criminal charge for an abortion. 

Reproductive health policy think tank the Guttmacher Institute, which is pro-abortion rights, reports about half of U.S. states are set to ban or severely limit abortions if Roe is overturned. 

But Kentucky is among just three where abortion would be automatically outlawed, without delay or further action from a governmental body. 

Other states with trigger laws have different mechanisms for enacting them. For example, Tennessee’s law would go into effect 30 days after Roe is overturned. Mississippi’s law would need to be certified by the attorney general. 

Providers and patients got a snapshot of what Kentucky and the region could look like post-Roe a few months ago. 

In mid-April, following the passage of a more than 70-page omnibus abortion bill, Planned Parenthood’s Louisville Health Center and EMW Women’s Surgical Center stopped providing abortions for more than a week. 

The law makes it harder for minors to get abortions, bans them at 15 weeks and restricts abortion medication. Though it doesn’t explicitly prohibit abortions, providers said it outlawed them in effect. The providers argued in a lawsuit that they weren’t able to legally comply with new regulations because they had not yet been established by the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Attorneys representing EMW also argued that the 15-week ban is unconstitutional.

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the bill, and the providers resumed abortions.

This law is still partially blocked, pending the outcome of the Supreme Court decision and the set-up of new forms and programs outlined in the bill. 

Kentucky also has other currently blocked measures that could come back if Roe is overturned, including a 2019 bill banning abortion at six weeks

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to release the second round of opinions Wednesday. It is not clear if the Mississippi case will be one of them.


Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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