Kentucky top court won't block abortion ban while clinics challenge it

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron delivers a live address to the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention from the Mellon Auditorium in Washington
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron delivers a live address to the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention from the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, U.S., August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • Clinics are challenging ban on nearly all abortions
  • Kentucky law contains no exception for rape or incest

(Reuters) - Kentucky's highest court on Thursday refused to stop the state from enforcing two laws banning most abortions while it considers a legal challenge by abortion clinics.

The 5-2 majority of the Supreme Court of Kentucky said that the clinics had not shown that there was "extraordinary cause" for a temporary order blocking the two laws. The court did not address the merits of the case.

"We are pleased with this victory for life and the rule of law and will continue to prepare for the arguments the Court has scheduled," Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represent the clinics, said in a joint statement that the decision "puts nearly a million people's health care in jeopardy."

"Despite this setback, the fight continues," they said.

Kentucky is among the roughly half of states that have moved to restrict abortion or are expected to do so in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had guaranteed a right to abortion nationwide.

The clinics sued the state days after the decision to block enforcement of two 2019 laws. One bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks and had been blocked by a court order because of Roe. The other is a so-called "trigger" law written to go into effect as soon as Roe was overturned, and bans abortion at any time.

Both laws have exceptions for abortions to save a mother's life, but unlike many state abortion bans they have no exceptions for rape or incest. The clinics said they violated the right to privacy and personal autonomy guaranteed by the state constitution.

A trial court judge blocked the laws on June 30, but a mid-level appeals court allowed them to take effect on Aug. 1.

While the majority of the state Supreme Court allowed the appeals court's order to remain in effect Thursday, Chief Justice John Minton dissented. Joined by Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth Hughes, he wrote that the clinics had made a "compelling argument that women may suffer irreparable and permanent harm absent emergency relief."

Kentuckians will vote in November on a constitutional amendment declaring nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion.

The case is EMW Women's Surgical Center PSC et al v. Cameron, Supreme Court of Kentucky, No. 2022-SC-0326.

For the clinics: Brigitte Amiri and Heather Gatnarek of the American Civil Liberties Union, Carrie Flaxman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Leah Godesky of O'Melveny & Myers and others

For the state: Not immediately available

Read more:

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ends constitutional right to abortion

State abortion bans blocked by Florida, Kentucky judges

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at