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Judge hears arguments, considers further Ky. abortion blocks

Protesters at an abortion rights rally in downtown Louisville following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that undercut abortion rights across the country.
Protesters at an abortion rights rally in downtown Louisville following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that undercut abortion rights across the country.

A Jefferson County judge will soon decide whether to further block two of Kentucky’s most restrictive abortion laws, nearly a week after he issued a restraining order preventing their enforcement.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry heard testimony from four witnesses over the course of more than seven hours Wednesday. Lawyers representing Kentucky’s two abortion care providers are seeking a temporary injunction. If granted, it would allow abortions to continue by blocking the state laws for the duration of the case. 

The ACLU, representing EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood, filed the case days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade. The ruling set in motion the state’s trigger ban, which makes it illegal to perform abortions in Kentucky except in life-threatening situations.

Last week, Perry temporarily blocked both the trigger ban and the state’s six-week ban from being enforced. The providers resumed abortions Friday. 

Wednesday’s witnesses included two OB-GYNs – one of whom performs abortions at EMW. The court also heard from Jason Lindo, a Texas A&M University professor who studies the economic impact of laws and regulations, and O. Carter Snead, a professor of law and political science at University of Notre Dame who focuses on bioethics. 

Dr. Ashley Bergin, the EMW provider, said abortion is “essential medical care,” and said pregnancy can exacerbate preexisting conditions like kidney or heart disease. She said the provision on Kentucky’s trigger ban that allows it to save the life of the patient is “vague and confusing.”

Lindo, the Texas professor, said that in studying this and other cases, bans on abortion lead to a significant reduction in access to care – a greater burden on those with lower incomes and people of color. He added that half the people who get abortions are at the federal poverty line and more than three quarters are below the poverty line. 

In Kentucky, more than 34% of abortions are among Black patients, an overrepresentation compared with 8.5% of the state’s population.

Snead said he worried about making a causal connection between abortion and these social issues. 

Brigitte Amiri, an attorney with the ACLU, said she felt good about the hearing. 

“We had an opportunity today to do what we came here to do, which is demonstrate the harm that will be caused by these abortion bans in Kentucky,” she said. 

Representatives and counsel with the attorney general’s office declined comment following the hearing, but Kentucky Right To Life Director Addia Wuchner said she was feeling confident.

“We thought the AG’s office put on an excellent and stellar witness presentation here in the court,” she said, adding she appreciated discussion around the moral elements of humanity and life. 

“We’ve heard the discussion is about the privacy right, but [what] you really heard [today] is who this child is, what this child is.”

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