This week Kentucky lawmakers voted to outlaw a common and safe procedure known as dilation and evacuation that accounts for 95% of abortions performed after the first trimester, essentially banning all abortions after 11 weeks.
The bill has been sent to the anti-abortion Governor and abortion-rights advocates are already promising to file a lawsuit if the ban is signed. Courts have already blocked similar laws in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Kentucky already bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Last fall, a federal judge struck down HB 2, an anti-abortion law that required patients seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before the procedure. HB 2 also required abortion providers to describe the image on the ultrasound and play audio of the fetus’s heartbeat in the hopes of deterring patients from following through with the procedure. Judge David Hale of the Western District of Kentucky handed down the decision that the law violates the First Amendment and “appears to inflict psychological harm on abortion patients.”
There is one abortion clinic left in the entire state of Kentucky: EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. Current Governor Matt Bevins successfully shut down every other abortion clinic by pursuing licensing disputes through the State Cabinet for Health and Family Services. So far, he has blocked the Planned Parenthood from continuing to perform abortions, closed the EMW clinic in Lexington, and worked tirelessly to try and shut down the Louisville health center.
The EMW Louisville was ordered by Governor Bevin to stop performing abortions in April because of a “deficient” license, but the clinic was granted a temporary restraining order by a federal judge. Governor Bevin’s brother, Tim Bevin, has even been involved in a protest outside of the clinic.
The embattled single abortion clinic is frequently targeted by extremists. Every morning, Tuesday through Saturday, the political debate over abortion spills to the front door of the Louisville clinic, where anti-abortion extremists gather to hurl insults and fake inflammatory images at women who walk by. Clinic escorts are forced to strategically stand at points around the block to help women safely enter the healthcare center.
In May, Operation Save America (OSA)—an anti-abortion extremist group—performed a blockade at the health clinic, leading to the arrest of ten people. Blockading the entrance to a clinic is a federal crime under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act. Among those arrested was Rusty Thomas, leader of OSA, who has publicly advocated for punishing women who obtain abortions by charging them with murder. A year ago, Governor Bevin actually addressed leaders of OSA in a 30 minute speech.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey recently found that 91.1 percent of clinics experience some type of anti-abortion activity, such as protesting, with 63.2 percent of providers experiencing activity at least once a week, and a quarter of clinics experiencing it every day. Blocking access to a clinic is considered one of the most severe types of threats and violence experienced by clinics. The number of clinics that report these experiences has skyrocketed since 2014, from 19.7 percent to 34.2 percent.
Media Resources: USA Today 3/29/18; Feminist Majority 10/5/18, 7/17/17