Fate of Kentucky's last abortion clinic goes to judge

(Reuters) - The fate of Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic is in the hands of a federal judge following a three-day trial that could make it the first U.S. state without a single clinic.

FILE PHOTO: Escorts who ensure women can reach the clinic lineup as they face off protesters outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. on January 27, 2017. P REUTERS/Chris Kenning/File Photo

Kentucky’s anti-abortion Republican governor, Matt Bevin, earlier this year moved to revoke the license of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center clinic in Louisville, citing deficiencies in its transfer agreements with local hospitals.

The clinic filed suit and was joined by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which said the state has used the same rules to block it from providing abortions in the city. The groups are asking U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers to overturn regulations they argue are medically unnecessary and create an unconstitutional barrier to abortion.

A ruling could take months, since both sides have 60 days to present post-trial briefs the judge.

“The state is trying to shut down the only abortion clinic in Kentucky by enforcing regulations that have nothing to do with women’s health,” EMW attorney Don Cox said during the trial according to WLKY-TV.

Lawyers for the Bevin administration, which waged a licensing battle in 2016 that led to the shutdown of a Lexington clinic, argued the transfer agreements in question were meant to protect women.

During the trial, a state health regulator blamed hospitals, saying they failed to provide sufficient agreements, the Courier-Journal reported. EMW and Planned Parenthood alleged the Bevin administration pressured or intimidated hospital officials into refusing to enter such agreements.

The trial has drawn anti-abortion activists and abortion rights demonstrators outside the courthouse in a city that has become a flashpoint for the debate over abortion.

If the court rules in the state’s favor and the clinic is forced to close, it would leave Kentucky the only U.S. state with no abortion provider. Six other states have only one clinic.

Conservative legislatures and Republican governors have sought in recent years to tighten regulations on abortion clinics and forced closures in states such as Texas.

But courts have pushed back. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a Texas law that required clinics to meet hospital-like standards and for clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The American Civil Liberties Union is providing legal help to the Kentucky clinic.

Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by David Gregorio