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We’re Suing to Keep Kentucky Politicians Out of the Exam Room

Andrew Beck,
Senior Staff Attorney, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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January 12, 2017

The Kentucky legislature had hardly been gaveled into session on January 3 when lawmakers rushed to pass the latest offensive abortion restriction into law. HB 2 forces doctors to describe an ultrasound to a women seeking an abortion in detail, even if she objects, even if the doctor believes that forcing the description on the woman would be harmful, and—most absurdly—even if the woman is covering her eyes and ears.

Lawmakers then took the extraordinary step of attaching an emergency clause to have the law take effect immediately. Just days after this insulting bill was introduced, Gov. Matt Bevin signed it into law.

That very day, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to block it from taking effect. The law unconstitutionally comes between a woman and her doctor by requiring that a doctor recite a state-mandated speech while providing an ultrasound — even if the woman is closing her eyes or asking the doctor to stop. It also violates medical ethics by forcing doctors to subject women to a medical procedure without their consent.

Shockingly, the law mandates that doctors put the ultrasound screen in a woman’s face and deliver the state’s antiabortion message even if the doctor thinks this will have a traumatic effect on the patient’s mental health. As expert medical testimony in the case makes clear, this experience would be incredibly harmful to many women, including women who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest, among others.

On the facts, it’s not immediately clear which is more outrageous: The legislators’ attempt to shame women for exercising their constitutional rights or their claim that they are doing so to “protect the welfare” of the women they are forcing these unwanted procedures on. What is clear is that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association both oppose mandated ultrasound laws and say that they serve no medical purpose.

HB 2 is at once both typical of the more than 340 state laws restricting abortion that have been passed since 2010 and a stark warning of things to come. While it is nearly identical to a North Carolina law that the ACLU had struck down in 2014, its “emergency” consideration at the top of the agenda of Kentucky’s new legislature likely signals an escalation of the assault on the right to abortion.

Gov. Matt Bevin fired back in response to the ACLU’s lawsuit. “They sue often,” he said, “They try to find resolution for everything they don’t like in the courts.”

On that point, Gov. Bevin is only partly correct. We don’t sue when we don’t “like” something. We sue when the government tramples on our constitutional rights. One in three women will terminate a pregnancy at some point in her life. The right to abortion is more than a woman’s right to control her body— it’s the right to control her life.

So when Kentucky passes legislation that curbs a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make decisions about their lives, their health, and their bodies, then yes Gov. Bevin, you can expect to see us in court.

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