FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s new Republican governor and growing majority in the state Senate have put the pressure on abortion providers this year, filing two lawsuits and submitting at least five bills critics say could hinder access.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has been in office three months, has sued two abortion clinics. The latest lawsuit was filed Wednesday against a clinic in Lexington the governor said does not have a license and has gone the last decade without being inspected by state regulators.
In February, after years of failed attempts, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed an anti-abortion law that requires women to get a face-to-face consultation with a doctor, either in person or by video, at least 24 hours before an abortion. Bevin signed the bill into law after a contingent of anti-abortion Senators hand delivered it to his office.
This week, an attorney for University of Louisville Hospital said they were pressured to terminate an agreement to provide emergency care for Planned Parenthood patients, saying the hospital’s state funding was at stake. And on Thursday, a state Senate committee advanced a bill that would require new abortion clinics to get a certificate of need from state regulators and comply with standards for an ambulatory surgical center. A similar law in Texas is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge said he is concerned about the “hostile climate around access to abortion.”
“Through lawsuits and a string of anti-abortion bills this legislative session, constitutional rights are being eroded under the guise of ‘women’s safety,’” he said. “What’s happening in Kentucky is part of a national movement to strip away abortion access.”
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said lawmakers are just reacting to public opinion.
“You are seeing a lot more younger people who generally in the past had not been anti-abortion now are anti-abortion,” he said.
Hundreds of people, young and old, have attended rallies at the state Capitol this year both for and against abortion rights. A number of anti-abortion bills have passed the state Senate, including bills that would ban the sale of fetal body parts, ban state spending for clinics that provide abortion services and require women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion. The woman would not have to look at the ultrasound images, but the doctor would have to describe them to her.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the abortion bills have made it difficult for the majority Democratic caucus. A majority of members support the anti-abortion bills and a vocal minority opposes them, he said.
In response to the bills, Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian filed a bill that would require men get a note from their wives before they are allowed to purchase Viagra. The bill was posted for a committee hearing but was never called.
Stumbo said he is concerned a number of the anti-abortion bills could be unconstitutional, including the bill requiring abortion clinics to comply with more strict medical standards.
“It makes it very difficult because it is a hot button issue with a lot of people,” Stumbo said.
Bevin’s battles started with a Planned Parenthood clinic in Louisville, which he ordered to stop performing abortions because it did not have a license. He later sued, asking a judge to impose $700,000 in fines. Planned Parenthood has called the lawsuit “politically motivated.”
Bevin announced Thursday he was suing a second abortion clinic in Lexington. Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Glisson said the clinic was operating without a license and did not have an agreement with an ambulance company to transport patients to a hospital in a medical emergency. In addition, the lawsuit said the clinic was “filthy” and had numerous expired medications.
The director of the clinic did not return a phone message seeking comment.