Two new abortion laws in Kentucky will be suspended indefinitely while a federal judge in Louisville considers lawsuits claiming that they are unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Hale extended a temporary order barring both laws from taking effect after conferring with lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging them, and lawyers for the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, which is defending them.
Senate Bill 9 bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. House Bill 5 bans abortion because of gender, race or disability of a fetus.
Hale’s order, entered Wednesday afternoon, says that the laws will not be enforced by agreement of the parties until the court issues a final ruling on whether they are constitutional, a process likely to take months.
ACLU lawyers hailed the suspension of the laws as a victory for women seeking abortions. They had argued SB 9 would effectively ban abortion in Kentucky because most women do not immediately realize they are pregnant at six weeks.
“While anti-abortion politicians across the country are racing to pass extreme abortion bans, this victory is a reminder that our Constitution guarantees people the right to decide whether to have an abortion,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
“We will continue to hold anti-abortion state legislators accountable as long as they abuse their power to try to push abortion out of reach.”
State officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both bills were passed earlier this month by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and quickly signed into law by Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican.
Because both bills carried “emergency” declarations, they became law immediately upon the governor’s signature.
But Hale issued temporary orders blocking both laws from taking effect after the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging both.
Under Wednesday’s order, the laws will remain suspended until Hale issues a final ruling. Hale had scheduled a hearing on the matter for Friday but instead held a telephone conference with the lawyers in the case Wednesday.
Friday’s hearing has been canceled.
Kentucky has not fared well in recent years with challenges to abortion legislation.
Federal courts already have struck down two Kentucky abortion laws in recent years, and a challenge to a third is pending before a federal judge in Louisville in cases brought by the ACLU and other lawyers.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers struck down as unconstitutional a law that required abortion clinics to have signed agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in case of a medical emergency.
And in 2017, Hale struck down a law that required physicians to perform an ultrasound and attempt to describe it and show it to the patient before an abortion.
The state has appealed both rulings.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley is considering another challenge to a law the General Assembly adopted last year to ban an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.” It would make it a felony for a physician to perform such a procedure.
That law has been suspended pending his ruling.
Such legal challenges could be costly, should the ACLU and other involved lawyers prevail.
A group of lawyers is seeking $1.5 million from the state after winning a federal lawsuit over its challenge to rules it argued the Bevin administration was using to try to force abortion clinics to close.
Planned Parenthood, EMW and the ACLU — using a team of lawyers from Kentucky, New York and California — in 2017 joined forces to fight the Bevin administration’s enforcement of a law requiring abortion clinics to have signed agreements with a hospital and ambulance service.
The lawyers said the requirement was medically unnecessary and was being improperly used to try to eliminate abortion clinics in Kentucky.