State Watch

ACLU sues Kentucky over abortion ultrasound law

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a new Kentucky law that would require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure takes place.

The new law, backed by Republicans who captured control of Kentucky state government for the first time in nearly a century in November’s elections, requires doctors to display images from the ultrasound and narrate the process. The law does not include an exception for doctors who believe an ultrasound would cause trauma to the patient.

“A woman deserves to expect high quality compassionate care from her doctor. Instead, this law puts politicians in the exam room—squarely between a woman and her doctor,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

{mosads}The ACLU sued on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the only licensed outpatient abortion provider in Kentucky. The suit says Kentucky’s new law is almost identical to a North Carolina law that was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014.

In that ruling, the Fourth Circuit said the North Carolina law violated the physician’s right to free speech, meddled with doctor-patient relationships and threatened harm to the patient’s psychological health.

The law is one of two new measures restricting abortion rights signed over the weekend by Gov. Matt Bevin (R). The other measure would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

Republicans passed the ultrasound requirement under a special emergency process, which allowed the new law to take effect immediately.

In a statement announcing the bill signings, Bevin called the new laws a way to “protect our most vulnerable.”

Similar laws have passed in five other states, though court orders have blocked implementation in North Carolina and Oklahoma. Women seeking abortions in Texas, Wisconsin and Louisiana must be subjected to an ultrasound before the procedure takes place, though women can opt out of listening to descriptions of the ultrasound.

Nine other states require abortion providers to offer a woman the option of an ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute.

In Kentucky, Republican legislators who wrested control of the state House from Democrats after 95 years in the minority have used the first days of the new session to dramatically change state law. After years of being blocked by Democrats, Kentucky Republicans passed three measures undercutting labor rights, along with the abortion measures.

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