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Kentucky's latest anti-abortion appeal proves it's time for federal action

Kentucky's latest anti-abortion appeal proves it's time for federal action
© Greg Nash

Politics is coming back to health care in Kentucky.

Despite numerous court rulings and overwhelming medical advice, once again people in Kentucky are looking at restrictions related to important medical decisions related to pregnancy being put back into place.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has appealed a loss at the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit and is pursuing a ban on a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E, after the 15th week of pregnancy. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review this case, which is rife with questions about legal standing and complex procedural questions. 

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There is no mistake about the underlying intent — to open the floodgates at the state level to pursue abortion bans. With no federal statutes protecting abortion access, this is an imminent and dangerous threat for health care across America. 

This procedure is often used to remove tissue that remains in the uterus after a miscarriage. Approximately 1 million miscarriages happen in America every year. D&E is a standard treatment of care. D&E is a safe and effective procedure. It usually takes under 30 minutes and does not require overnight hospitalization. This procedure is often medically necessary in situations where there is risk to the patient’s life, for patients who experience long delays in accessing abortion services due to a lack of access to abortions and for people who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest who may not confirm the pregnancy until the second trimester because of an emotional reaction to the traumatic cause of the pregnancy.

Over 500 abortion restrictions were introduced around the country in state legislatures just this year. There is no doubt about anti-choice litigators' and politicians’ willingness to put their agendas in place, even in the face of court loses. 

Again, states are the battleground. Under the dome and in courthouses around the country, advocates are fiercely defending the ability to access abortion in the face of outlandish legislative and legal attacks. The last time we saw this level of anti-abortion activity was in 2017. We are also reminded of the landscape in 2011, which was the year with the highest watermark of anti-abortion legislation after Roe v. Wade, the ruling establishing abortion rights nationwide, was decided in 1973. 

Even as these pieces of legislation become law, we stand ready to file litigation, but the legal area has dramatically shifted because of Trump appointees to the bench. Several dozen cases are already being adjudicated at the same time as a new slate of bills are coming on the docket as ground for potential litigation. With any losses in the courts, we will see significant knock-on effects because restriction trip wires have already been put in place by red state legislatures that will set us back significantly with abortion access once we lose in court in front of conservative judges.

Because some government officials will do everything in their power to intervene in decisions best left to individuals and their health care providers, Congress should consider legislation that would address these state level attacks on health care access and reproductive freedom once and for all. Having a patchwork of protections across our country has disparate impacts on low income and people of color. National protection would mean increasing access to care for everyone.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and chief executive officer of Trust Women. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities.