Days before Kentucky's last abortion clinic was to be forced to close its doors, a federal judge granted it a temporary stay to keep it open. The stay, in the form of a restraining order, lasts 14 days.
The EMW Women's Surgical Center is based in Louisville and was set to close on Monday after Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services warned the clinic it was to lose its license within 10 days. The cabinet claimed that EMW’s admission agreements with local hospitals and ambulances — which are required in Kentucky in case of an emergency — were “deficient” because they were signed by someone without authorization to do so.
On Friday, however, the judge expressed concerns about due process of law in closing the clinic, and stated that the closure would mean the "rights of [the clinic's] patients would be immediately and irreparably harmed."
The clinic was originally set to close on March 23, but the cabinet extended the deadline to April 3. In that time, the clinic collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit against the state. The ACLU said in a statement that it will take this new two-week extension to figure out the next steps.
Medical emergencies arising from surgical abortions are very rare. Hospital admissions agreements are often difficult for abortion clinics to obtain, as many hospitals are Catholic and thus anti-abortion. Laws requiring admitting privileges, which exist in nearly a dozen states, have caused many clinics across the country to close down.
EMW's lawsuit claims its admissions agreements had been virtually unchanged for years, and had never posed problems previously. The ACLU said in statement that the letter was sent "out of the blue" and without warning.
"The state had inspected the clinic just last year and renewed EMW’s license," which was valid until May 2017, the ACLU said. "Basically, the state concocted new criteria, without any medical justification, as a thinly veiled attempt to shut down the clinic."
Access to abortion in Kentucky has grown increasingly threatened over the past few years as the state's Republican Governor Matt Bevin signed more and more restrictions on abortion into law.
The ACLU and EMW were already in a separate in a legal battle with Kentucky over a law signed by Bevin this year requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion, show and describe the ultrasound images in detail to the pregnant woman, and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat to the her before she can legally have an abortion. The letter shutting down EMW clinic was sent days before the first hearing on the law, which the ACLU claims violates Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that guarantees women the right to an abortion without "undue burden" of laws.
Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in a statement that the cabinet was "surprised and disappointed" by the judge's order, and claimed it was granted "without input from the Cabinet and without first ascertaining the status of communications between both parties." The cabinet did not immediately return BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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