LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s Republican governor will appeal a ruling striking down a state law requiring pregnant women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound.
The ruling means doctors at Kentucky’s lone abortion clinic will not be forced to perform ultrasounds and describe them in detail while the pregnant woman listens to the fetal heartbeat. The law says women can close their eyes, and they can ask to have the sound of the heartbeat turned off. But doctors still have to perform the ultrasound and describe it to her, even if she asks them not to. If they don’t, they could be fined up to $250,000.
Lawyers for EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville said the law violates their doctors’ First Amendment rights because it forces doctors “to deliver the state’s ideological, anti-abortion message to their patients.” Lawyers for the state say that’s not true, because the law only requires doctors to “disclose truthful, non-misleading, and relevant information.”
But U.S. District Judge David Hale sided with the clinic, ruling “the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to refrain from speaking just as much as it protects the right to speak freely.”
“We are pleased that Kentuckians will no longer be subjected to this demeaning and degrading invasion into their personal health care decisions,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This ruling puts us one step closer to getting Kentucky politicians out of the exam room.”
Amanda Stamper, spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Bevin, said the governor was disappointed and “will appeal immediately.” She said the governor is confident the law is constitutional because similar laws in Texas and South Dakota have been upheld by two federal appellate courts.
However, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a similar law in North Carolina was unconstitutional. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down that state’s ultrasound law.
Bevin is not a defendant in the lawsuit. But his cabinet secretary for Health and Family Services is, and Bevin’s lawyer has been representing her in the case. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear is a named defendant in the lawsuit. A spokesman said the Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the ruling.
The law was one of the first to pass the state Legislature earlier this year after voters elected a Republican majority in the House for the first time in nearly a century.