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Judge temporarily blocks Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban

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An abortion rights protester displays an indication outside during a gathering outside of The Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse in response to the U.S. Supreme Courts conservative majority decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and ending constitutional protections for abortion on June 24, 2022 in Louisville, United States.

Jon Cherry | Getty Images

A judge in Kentucky temporarily blocked that state’s near-total ban on abortions Thursday, clearing the way in which for the procedure to resume there, while a judge in Florida said he would block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect in that state.

The ruling in Kentucky pauses that state’s so-called trigger law, which was designed to take effect after the nation’s highest court ruled to finish federal constitutional protections for abortions. The case reflects battles being waged in courts across the country after the Supreme Court left it as much as the states to choose whether abortion is legal inside their borders — forcing abortion rights groups to turn to state constitutions for defense.

In Florida, Judge John C. Cooper said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect after a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state structure guarantees a right to the procedure. Cooper said Florida’s ban was “unconstitutional in that it violates the privacy provision of the Florida Structure.”

A number of the state disputes involve bans which were on the books, unenforced, for generations. Some involve trigger laws like Kentucky’s that were specifically designed to take effect if Roe were to fall. Some entail prohibitions on abortion that were held up pending the ruling on Roe and are actually moving forward.

The flurry of court activity has caused confusion in states, and left patients and clinics scrambling.

In Arizona, the attorney general said Wednesday that a complete abortion ban that has been on the books since before statehood may be enforced, though the governor disagrees and has said a recent law that bans abortion after 15 weeks takes precedence. Abortion providers in that state immediately stopped performing the procedure out of fear of prosecution.

In Louisiana, that attorney general warned doctors against performing abortions, even while a ban there may be temporarily blocked.

In Kentucky, Thursday’s ruling allowed abortions to resume after they ended abruptly last week. Heather Gatnarek, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said nearly 200 women with scheduled appointments have been turned away from EMW Women’s Surgical Center, certainly one of the 2 Louisville abortion clinics, in recent days.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood released a joint statement saying they were glad the “cruel abortion bans” were blocked, adding that since last week’s ruling, “quite a few Kentuckians have been forced to hold pregnancies against their will or flee their home state in the hunt for essential care. Despite this victory, we all know this fight is removed from over.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican running for governor, said Thursday’s ruling had no basis within the state structure and he intends to challenge it.

“We are going to do all the things possible to proceed defending this law and to make sure that unborn life is protected within the Commonwealth,” he said in a press release.

The ruling is available in a lawsuit filed this week on behalf of abortion clinics, which said women were being “forced to stay pregnant against their will” in violation of the state’s structure. They’d asked the judge to temporarily block the trigger law together with one other Kentucky law that attempted to stop abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry also agreed to temporarily block the six-week ban. That measure was previously halted by a federal court.

Kentucky’s trigger measure comprises a narrow exception allowing a physician to perform a procedure crucial to stop the death or everlasting injury of a pregnant woman. It doesn’t permit abortions in cases of rape or incest.

The request to proceed abortion services in Kentucky — through intervention by state courts — could turn right into a stopgap effort. Kentuckians will vote in November on a ballot initiative that, if ratified, would establish that no state constitutional right to abortion exists. Each side of the abortion debate are busy organizing ahead of the election.

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