A federal judge late Wednesday struck down a Kentucky anti-abortion law that required doctors to conduct an ultrasound and present the results to a woman before performing an abortion, saying the law violates doctors’ First Amendment rights.
Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who championed the law when it was approved by the General Assembly in January, quickly promised to appeal the decision by U.S. District Court Judge David Hale.
“We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling and will appeal immediately to the 6th Circuit,” said Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Bevin. “We are confident the constitutionality of HB 2 will be upheld, as similar laws have been in both the 5th and 8th Circuits.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a legal challenge to the bill on the same day Bevin signed it into law.
House Bill 2 requires doctors to show women an image of their ultrasound, describe what it depicts and share the heartbeat of the child if one is present. In general, if the pregnancy is less than nine weeks, a trans-vaginal ultrasound rather than an external ultrasound is performed.
“The court recognizes that states have substantial interests in protecting fetal life and ensuring the psychological well-being and informed decision-making of pregnant women,” Hale wrote. “However, HB 2 does not advance those interests and impermissibly interferes with physicians’ First Amendment rights.”
The ACLU, which sued on behalf of Kentucky’s sole abortion clinic, EMW Women’s Center in Louisville, celebrated the ruling at a time when Kentucky has made a push to limit abortions in the state.
“We are pleased that Kentucky women 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 ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This ruling puts us one step closer to getting Kentucky politicians out of the exam room.”
The General Assembly also passed a bill in January that banned women from getting an abortion after they’ve been pregnant for 20 weeks. Meanwhile, the Bevin administration has threatened to revoke EMW’s license, saying the clinic lacks required transfer agreements with hospitals and ambulance services. The issue is being litigated in court.
Attorney General Andy Beshear also was named in the ACLU’s challenge to Kentucky’s ultrasound law. Beshear, a Democrat, filed a motion that said his office should not be a defendant in the case, but the judge dismissed that motion Wednesday.
When it came time to argue the case in March, it was attorneys for Bevin, not Beshear, who defended the law.
Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, said in March the state had a legitimate and substantial responsibility to protect the life of an expectant mother and fetus, which the state defines as an unborn child.
“This law does not prohibit physicians from making any statement to the patients that they wish to make,” Pitt said at the time.
Hale, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, disagreed. In his ruling, Hale said the law violates a doctor’s First Amendment rights and fails to better inform women because it allows them to cover their eyes to avoid seeing an image of the fetus.
“Requiring physicians to force upon their patients the information mandated by HB 2 has more potential to harm the psychological well-being of the patient than to further the legitimate interests of the commonwealth,” Hale wrote.
The case is subject to appeal at the Six Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said he thinks the federal courts will eventually uphold Kentucky’s law.
“I respect Judge Hale’s decision but I disagree with his conclusion,” Hoover said. “This was the first bill passed in January by our new majority in the House. We went to great lengths to craft the bill in a way we felt was constitutionally sound. I look forward to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals having a chance to review this decision.”