Kentucky may become the country’s first state without abortion clinics, as the state governor, Matt Bevin, pitches a three-day legal debate against the last medical facility of its kind in a federal courtroom this week.
Bevin tried to shut down the EMW Women's Surgical Center earlier this year after his administration told the clinic that it was failing to meet state health regulations requiring clinics that provide abortions to have transfer agreements with local hospitals and ambulance services in case of medical emergencies.
The Republican governor's administration notified the clinic in March that its agreement had been deemed insufficient. In response, lawyers for the EMW center filed a federal lawsuitclaiming the administration's complaint had come "out of the blue." The clinic at one point came within days of closing, but the administration and clinic later reached an agreement allowing it to stay open while litigation is underway.
“The very right to access legal abortion in the state of Kentucky is on the line,” Ernest Marshall, a doctor and EMW clinic founder, said in a statement.
The case could test court interpretations of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of a Texas law requiring clinics to meet hospital-like standards and for doctors to have admission rights at nearby hospitals.
U.S. state legislatures enacted 41 new abortion restrictions in the first half of 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank that supports abortion rights.
“In 37 years providing abortion, I’ve seen more than a dozen clinics close down in our state, and now ours is the last clinic standing in the entire state,” Marshall said.
State regulators supporting EMW say abortion services are also a necessity for women’s health.
“There will be no abortions in Kentucky if they win,” said Donald L. Cox, clinic attorney. “That end result will be that some women take the matter into their own hands, and we know where that ends.”
"Will we build on the momentum of last year's Supreme Court decision upholding abortion rights?" Marshall told the Associated Press news agency. "Or will Kentucky be the harbinger of a future where the right to abortion only exists if you live in the right zip code?"
The fate of the last state abortion clinic is expected to be determined within two to three days, with the first court hearing being held Wednesday. The clinic is also receiving legal assistance and support from the American Civil Liberties Union.