Court hears ACLU challenge to Ky. ultrasound law

by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today, posted Friday, March 24, 2017 (one year ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- A federal judge didn't immediately rule after hearing arguments seeking a temporary restraining order against Kentucky's new law requiring women seeking abortions to have a chance to see ultrasound images and hear a description of the images.

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U.S. District Judge David Hale is considering whether to grant the request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block the law pending the outcome of the ACLU's overall challenge to its constitutionality.

After the day-long hearing on Thursday (March 23), Hale gave attorneys additional time to file supplemental briefs before rendering his decision.

The ACLU filed the suit shortly after Gov. Matt Bevin signed the legislation into law in early January. Bevin said at the time the law was constitutionally sound and would stand up to scrutiny in the courts.

Bevin's general counsel, Steve Pitt, has taken the lead in defending the law, saying it is intended to provide women with information they need to make a better informed decision about whether to have an abortion.

Steve Pitt, general counsel for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, is leading the defense of Kentucky's ultrasound law.
Proponents of the law believe that if a women gets to see their unborn babies they will likely opt against having abortions.

Pitt was the only attorney to speak in defense of the new law in the hearing. While Attorney General Andy Beshear sent attorneys to Louisville, they sat silently throughout.

The ACLU had estimated the hearing would last two days but Hale said he intended to finish it in one, and did so, working through the lunch hour.

In court documents, the ACLU contends the law forces physicians "to deliver a government-mandated, ideological message to patients in violation of the First Amendment, all the while causing harm to their patients."

"It also compels women to listen to this government-mandated speech while lying captive on the examination table," ACLU attorneys said in the lawsuit.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of EMW Women's Center in Louisville, its staff and patients and three physicians and their patients.

The law requires abortion providers to display the ultrasound images so the women can look at them if they want to. However, they have the option not to look.

The law provides penalties of up to $100,000 against doctors and other medical professionals for first offenses and up to $250,000 for subsequent offenses. Doctors also would be reported to the state licensure board for possible disciplinary action.

Kentucky lawmakers passed two new abortion laws in the first week of this year's legislative session. The other, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, has not been challenged in court.

Tom Latek is the Frankfort bureau reporter for Kentucky Today (, an online news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
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