Thursday, September 28, 2017

Federal judge strikes down new abortion law that required narrated ultrasound; Bevin administration says it will appeal

A federal judge has struck down a new Kentucky law that required a physician to perform an ultrasound and display and describe the image of the fetus to the patient before providing an abortion, Darcy Costello and Deborah Yetter report for The Courier-Journal.

In a one-page opinion, District Judge David Hale ruled Sept. 27 that House Bill 2, which also required the physician to play an audible heartbeat of the fetus to the patient, violates a physician's First Amendment rights. Supporters of the law, which was enacted in January, say it was meant to better inform women seeking an abortion.

Hale wrote in his 30-page opinion: "HB 2 is intended to dissuade women from choosing abortion by forcing ultrasound images, detailed descriptions of the fetus and the sounds of the fetal heartbeat on them, against their will, at a time when they are most vulnerable."

The Courier-Journal reports that a lawyer for EMW Woman's Surgical Center in Louisville, the state's only abortion clinic, called the ruling a victory for patients, but supporters have promised an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

"We are disappointed in the court's ruling and will appeal immediately to the 6th Circuit," Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Bevin, told the newspaper. "We are confident the constitutionality of HB 2 will be upheld."

But Andrew Beck, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, told the Courier-Journal that he expects Hale's permanent injunction to withstand an appeal. "It's an extremely solid ruling," he said.

Hale said the law is "designed to convey the state's ideological, anti-abortion message" and goes "well beyond" the basic information that a physician should give a patient. He added that the law "appears to inflict psychological harm on abortion patients."

HB 2 permits a woman to look away from the image and cover her ears, but physicians who failed to attempt to show and describe the fetus to the patient could face fines of up to $250,000 and action against their medical license. State law already requires counseling 24 hours in advance of an abortion.

The ultrasound law is one of two abortion bills the legislature passed during its first week this year after Republicans took control of both chambers. The second measure, Senate Bill 5, bans abortions at or after the 20th week of pregnancy. An attorney with the ACLU told The Courier-Journal that they don't plan to challenge that law, but will continue to monitor it.

Meanwhile, the state's only abortion clinic awaits a judges ruling to determine if it can remain open.

The Bevin administration revoked its license in March, claiming it lacked appropriate agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in the event of a patient emergency. After a three-day trial earlier this month, it was granted a temporary restraining order so it can remain open until the judge rules on the case, which is expected later this year.

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