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ACLU moves to drop lawsuit against Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban

The Kentucky Supreme Court chamber is shown, with a raised wooden dais and seven chairs for the seven justices sitting behind it.
Ryan Van Velzer
The ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood say a February ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court is the impetus for their decision to ask a judge to dismiss their lawsuit against the state's most restrictive abortion bans.

Kentucky laws that outlaw most abortions took effect last summer. The plaintiffs in a major lawsuit against the most restrictive bans are asking a judge to dismiss their case.

The ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood filed motions Tuesday to dismiss the case they filed nearly a year ago, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and eliminated a nationwide right to abortion in June 2022.

That historic ruling cleared the path for Kentucky’s abortion bans to become the law of the land. That includes a trigger ban — which only allows abortion if the pregnant patient faces a life-threatening health risk — as well as its ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Since then, the legal wrangling in the case brought by Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs mainly focused on whether the courts should temporarily block both bans while the lawsuit was pending.

The abortion bans have remained in effect since August 2022, thanks to a state appeals court judge. The Kentucky Supreme Court got the final say on that matter in February, when it let the bans stay in place.

Planned Parenthood and EMW Women's Surgical Center — the state's only remaining abortion clinics — are unable to provide abortions because of those bans. EMW recently put its downtown building up for sale, although a spokesperson for the ACLU, which represents the clinic in the lawsuit, said EMW "is still answering calls to give patients guidance and serve the community in any way they can under the current restrictions."

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood collectively pointed to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s recent ruling as the impetus behind their willingness to drop the case now.

That’s because the court ruled that abortion providers — specifically, Planned Parenthood and EMW — lack the necessary legal standing to pursue the lawsuit on behalf of their patients.

The plaintiffs criticized that ruling in a statement Tuesday. They said the court upended “decades of precedent” when it “took away health care providers’ ability to defend the rights of their patients.”

“Bringing cases on behalf of patients has been standard practice in Kentucky and across the country for good reason — numerous obstacles stand in the way of patients coming forward to participate in litigation,” they said.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron defends the state’s abortion bans in court. He filed his own motion to dismiss the lawsuit May 31.

Kentucky patients could still sue directly to try and overturn the ban. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood said they’d consider representing any patients who might be interested in pursuing a lawsuit.

“If you are in Kentucky, seeking an abortion and want to know more about possibly being a plaintiff in a lawsuit like this, our phone lines are open,” they said in Tuesday’s statement.

A separate case challenging Kentucky’s abortion laws remains ongoing.

That one was filed last year by three Jewish women in Louisville, who claim the bans violate their religious freedom and are overly vague.

Their lawsuit also says the women avoided pursuing new pregnancies after abortion was outlawed.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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