A Kentucky court case may determine whether the state’s remaining abortion center must close due to regulatory violations.
In a trial that began last Wednesday, state health regulators and pro-life Gov. Matt Bevin faced off against the owners of a Louisville abortion center, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, over the state’s claim the facility doesn’t have satisfactory transfer agreements with a hospital or ambulance service for patients suffering medical emergencies.
Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent a letter to the abortion center in March saying it didn’t comply with state regulations. Officials gave the center 10 days to fix the problem or lose its license and shut down.
The center responded by filing a lawsuit claiming the letter came “out of the blue.” Lawyers say the center has had a hospital agreement and an ambulance agreement on file with the state for years.
Amanda Stamper, the governor’s communications director, told me that the state requirements have gone unchallenged since their implementation 19 years ago. But she didn’t specify the center’s violations.
“[The requirements] are important measures for ensuring women have the proper life-saving procedures in place in the event of an emergency,” Stamper said. “Essentially all healthcare facilities in Kentucky are required to have such agreements, and it is telling that the abortion industry believes that it alone should be exempt from these important safety measures.”
After the suit, a judge quickly issued a temporary restraining order, allowing the abortion center to remain open while the case proceeded.
The suit cites last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which nixed a Texas law requiring abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges and abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. The decision triggered multiple lawsuits against pro-life laws across the country, including regulations in Missouri and Louisiana.
Earlier this year, Bevin signed both a ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation and a requirement that abortionists show women ultrasound images of their babies and have them listen to their babies’ heartbeats before abortions. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the ultrasound requirement, a case still pending in the courts.
Regulators in Ohio also are embroiled in a legal battle with an abortion center over its hospital transfer agreement requirements. Toledo abortion center Capital Care Network filed suit against the state in 2014 over a law barring public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion centers and requiring local transfer agreements.
The center lost its license after its agreement with the University of Toledo Hospital didn’t qualify, and its subsequent agreement with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was too far away. Lower courts sided twice with Capital Care Network.
But the Ohio Department of Health appealed to the state’s Supreme Court in May, and a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis called the upcoming legal showdown “arguably the most important pro-life case in our state’s history.”
Capital Care Network is the last remaining abortion center in the Toledo area.