Kentucky's last abortion clinic sues to stay open

Deborah Yetter

Gov. Matt Bevin's administration is seeking to shut down Kentucky's only abortion provider, prompting a federal lawsuit by the clinic to block the move it says would have “a devastating impact on women.”

Angela Minter, center, of the group Sisters for Life confronts volunteer escorts at the EMW women's Surgical Center on Market Street, in Louisville. Feb. 18, 2017.

Bevin’s administration has ordered the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville to stop providing abortions starting Monday, claiming it lacks proper agreements for patient care in the event of a medical emergency.

EMW's lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, calls the order "blatantly unconstitutional" and asks a federal judge to bar the Bevin administration from revoking the EMW clinic's license.

"They've made it clear they won't stop until no woman can get an abortion in Kentucky," said Donald L. Cox, a lawyer for EMW. "It's just an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky."

A Bevin spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

The state's announcement in a March 13 letter that it is revoking the license makes the EMW clinic the latest enforcement target of the administration of Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican who has called himself an “unapologetically pro-life individual.”


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Over the past year, the Bevin administration has blocked abortions at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky's Louisville clinic and at an EMW clinic in Lexington over licensure disputes, leaving EMW’s downtown Louisville clinic as Kentucky’s sole abortion provider.

Officials with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which licenses abortion clinics, has argued its actions are based on patient safety.

But EMW, joined in its lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, said the clinic already complies with the law and says that if the state succeeds in forcing it to close, “abortion will be effectively banned in the commonwealth.”

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to temporarily block state efforts to stop abortions at EMW. It says the clinic has patients scheduled and an abrupt shutdown would deprive them of their right to the procedure.

The dispute with the state involves “transfer agreements” that state law requires abortion clinics to have with hospitals and ambulance services should a medical emergency arise for a patient.

Inspector General Robert Silverthorn, who oversees such licenses for the cabinet, said in the letter to EMW that its transfer agreements are deficient and don't adequately protect patients.

But EMW, in its lawsuit, said its transfer agreements comply with the law and were approved last year by the cabinet during an annual inspection in which its license was renewed through May 31.

The state's new finding that the agreements are deficient amounts to a "bureaucratic sleight of hand," said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "This is an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky, plain and simple. We are fighting to keep this from happening."

Silverthorn, in similar findings to the enforcement action against EMW, last year rejected Planned Parenthood’s transfer agreements as deficient because the clinic had agreements with hospitals in Southern Indiana and Lexington. The cabinet argued one was out of state and the other, in Lexington, was too far away.

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The state also argued that Planned Parenthood's agreement with Louisville Emergency Medical Services to transport patients is deficient because it doesn’t specifically identify the hospital to which it would transport patients.

University of Louisville Hospital last year backed out of a transfer agreement with Planned Parenthood to accept patients, citing outside pressure, but said it would not turn away any patient in an emergency.

Planned Parenthood claims its transfer agreements meet all specifications of state law and has appealed the cabinet’s denial of a license to an administrative law judge with the cabinet, where it is pending.

Planned Parenthood briefly provided abortions at the Louisville clinic in late 2015 and early 2016 before it agreed to stop under orders from the state while it seeks to resolve the licensure dispute.

EMW closed a part-time clinic in Lexington in January after the state sued it for operating without a license. The clinic previously had operated as a doctor’s office and argued that as such, it did not require a license as an abortion clinic.

The clinic sought a license, but its application was denied by the state.

The dispute comes amid EMW's legal challenge to a new state law requiring doctors providing abortions to first perform an ultrasound and attempt to show and describe the image of the fetus to the patient. EMW and the ACLU argue the law passed in January by the General Assembly is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge David Hale heard arguments in the case last week but has not ruled.

Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at 502-582-4228 or at