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Kentucky woman sues over state’s two strictest abortion bans

A gavel rests inside the court room of the 100th Air Refueling Wing base legal office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 28, 2019. The attorneys in the legal office offer commanders legal advice and also provide services like notaries, power of attorneys, wills and legal assistance to Team Mildenhall. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron
A woman who is eight weeks pregnant is suing to try to overturn Kentucky’s strictest abortion bans.

A pregnant Kentuckian filed a class-action lawsuit Friday against Kentucky’s trigger and six-week bans on abortion. She says the laws violate her constitutional rights.

The woman, who’s using the pseudonym Jane Doe in court to protect her privacy, is about eight weeks pregnant and cannot get a legal abortion in her home state because of the bans passed by the Republican-dominated Kentucky Legislature.

Abortion is illegal in Kentucky unless there’s a life-threatening health risk to the pregnant patient. Jane Doe is bringing the case on her own behalf and on behalf of similarly situated Kentuckians who are or will one day become pregnant and be unable to legally obtain an abortion in their state.

This is the first such class-action lawsuit brought against Kentucky’s bans since abortion was outlawed in the state last year, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority eliminated a nationwide right to abortion.

The ACLU of Kentucky is representing Jane Doe. At a press conference Friday in downtown Louisville, ACLU executive director Amber Duke read a statement written by Jane Doe.

“I am a proud Kentuckian and I love the life my family and I have here,” Duke read from Doe’s statement. “But I am angry that now that I am pregnant and do not want to be, the government is interfering in my private matters and blocking me from having an abortion. … I am bringing this lawsuit because I firmly believe that everyone should have the ability to make their own decisions about their pregnancies.”

Duke said the ACLU’s attorneys invite other Kentuckians seeking an abortion to join Jane Doe as a plaintiff in this lawsuit. She said anyone who wants to discuss that possibility can contact the ACLU of Kentucky or Kentucky’s Planned Parenthood affiliate.

Jane Doe’s case arrives more than five months after another major lawsuit against Kentucky’s bans, brought by abortion providers, was dismissed this summer.

That lawsuit was derailed by the Kentucky Supreme Court’s February ruling that the state’s two remaining abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, lacked the necessary legal standing to pursue the case on their patients’ behalf.

The state Supreme Court left open the possibility that a pregnant patient could sue directly to challenge Kentucky’s abortion bans. That’s what’s happening now.

“If the claims in the lawsuit filed today sound familiar, it is because they are,” Duke said. “We brought a similar challenge in state court last year. … So today, months after that case was dismissed, Jane Doe has courageously stepped forward as a directly impacted pregnant Kentuckian to challenge these abortion bans and try to restore abortion access in the commonwealth.”

Like the earlier case, the new lawsuit argues Kentucky’s two strictest abortion laws — the trigger law that eliminated virtually all abortion access in the state and the ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — violate the Kentucky Constitution.

Specifically, Jane Doe’s lawsuit argues the bans infringe on her and other abortion-seeking Kentuckians’ constitutional rights to privacy and self-determination.

A constitutional challenge like this is still possible because Kentucky voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution in November 2022.

It remains an open question, legally speaking, whether the Kentucky Constitution protects a right to abortion.

Jane Doe’s lawsuit seeks a court ruling that declares the state’s trigger and six-week bans unconstitutional and blocks them from being enforced any longer.

Kentucky’s Planned Parenthood affiliate is also a plaintiff in the case. Its CEO, Rebecca Gibron, said Friday: “We're going back to court because we believe Kentucky's Constitution is our best chance to fight back against the state's abortion bans.”

At the press conference, Gibron said she was standing “in a position of hope, in a place where access to reproductive health care has been denied for far too long.”

“Today, we are joining a brave Kentuckian who has been denied access to care and is suing to overturn dangerous laws limiting the freedoms of Kentuckians to control their own bodies, their own health and their own futures,” she said.

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

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