Agreement means Kentucky abortion clinic won't close for now

Posted at 2:49 PM, Apr 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-07 14:49:55-04

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Lawyers for Kentucky's governor have halted efforts to shut down the state's last abortion clinic pending the outcome of a lawsuit aimed at preventing the closure.

The latest development came as lawyers for Gov. Matt Bevin and the Louisville clinic submitted an agreement to U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers, who had not yet signed it. In it, Bevin's administration agreed to renew the license for EMW Women's Surgical Center until the lawsuit is resolved.

"We are open providing the service, and people won't have to leave their community to get the rights the Supreme Court has determined they have," Donald L. Cox, an EMW lawyer, said Friday.

The legal wrangling started recently when the state told the clinic it was out of compliance with state laws related to its agreements with a local hospital and ambulance service.

That spurred the federal lawsuit claiming the state's move was unconstitutional and accusing the state of violating Kentucky law by not giving proper notice of action against the clinic's license.

Stivers issued a restraining order last week to prevent the state from revoking EMW's license.

The two sides on Thursday submitted their agreement to Stivers that would keep the clinic open pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

"The state never intended to shut down the EMW facility immediately, since it had the right to a due process hearing," Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in a statement Friday.

Hogan said the state remains confident it will prevail when the lawsuit goes to trial.

"The cabinet is confident the statutory requirement for transfer agreements, which dates back to 1998 and has never been questioned by EMW for 19 years, is necessary to protect the health and welfare of women," he said.

The clinic's attorneys likened the state's efforts to "politically motivated" compliance enforcement in other states that have sought to close abortion clinics.

"We don't believe that these transfer agreements that they've been insisting upon are medically necessary and are simply adopted to restrict a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own health," Cox said.

Similar crackdowns over licensing regulations have occurred in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined in defending the Kentucky clinic.

The EMW clinic in Louisville is the third abortion clinic in Kentucky that Bevin, an anti-abortion conservative, has targeted. The Republican governor last year sued Planned Parenthood in Louisville. Although the suit was dismissed, the facility stopped performing abortions. An EMW clinic that performed abortions in Lexington closed its doors last year amid a licensing fight with Bevin's administration and announced early this year that it would not reopen.

The fight over EMW's status is one of two abortion cases pending in federal court in Kentucky. The ACLU is leading a challenge against a new Kentucky law that requires doctors to conduct an ultrasound exam before an abortion, and then try to show fetal images to the pregnant women. The law was passed by Kentucky's GOP-led Legislature in the opening days of this year's legislative session and signed by Bevin.