Mar 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court lets Kentucky's GOP AG defend 15-week abortion ban

Picture of the Supreme Court building

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court sided with the Kentucky attorney general in an 8-1 opinion on Thursday that allows him to bring back the defense of a law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The big picture: This term, the Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban in Texas to stay in place and has yet to rule on a Mississippi case that could be the end of Roe v. Wade.

  • Thursday's ruling in Cameron v. EMW Women's Surgical Center does not revolve around the legality of a restrictive abortion law, but who can represent a state when there's been a shift in the political landscape.

Catch up fast: The bill had been signed into law in 2018, but a district court ruled in 2019 that it was unconstitutional, and the decision was upheld by an appeals court.

  • Kentucky's health secretary then decided to not appeal the decision after Democrat Andy Beshear became governor in 2019.
  • When Republican Daniel Cameron became Kentucky's attorney general in 2020, he attempted to continue the legal battle, but an appeals court rejected his bid, saying that he waited too long to get involved.

What they're saying: The court ruled that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals erred when they denied Cameron's request, arguing that there's no jurisdictional rule that bars the state attorney general from intervening.

  • Justice Samuel Alito, joined by the other five conservative justices including Chief Justice John Roberts, argued that the appeals court "failed to account for the strength of the Kentucky attorney general's interest in taking up the defense" of the abortion ban.
  • Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan agreed with the court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only judge to dissent.
  • "I fear today's decision will open the floodgates for government officials to evade the consequences of litigation decisions made by their predecessors of different political parties, undermining finality and upsetting the settled expectations of courts, litigants, and the public alike," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.

"Politicians in Kentucky are working overtime to force people to continue pregnancies against their will, instead of doing what is best for the people they are supposed to serve," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and lead counsel for EMW Women’s Surgical Center.

  • "And it is not just in Kentucky. In Texas, most people are already being blocked from getting an abortion — a nightmare that could soon become reality for nearly half of this country, as the Supreme Court seems poised to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade. But this fight is not over and we’ll continue doing everything in our power to protect each person’s ability to get an abortion, no matter where they live."

How it works: Kentucky's H.B. 454 restricts an abortion method known as "dilation and evacuation," which is used during the second trimester of pregnancy.

  • During this surgical procedure, a patient's cervix is dilated and suction is used to remove the fetus.
  • The law says that the procedure is "brutal for unborn children" and fails to "uphold and respect the unalienable rights and dignity" of the fetus.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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