Kentuckians decry ‘terrifying’ choices, two years after Dobbs ended abortion access in the state

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

LOUISVILLE — Two years to the day after the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, advocates and physicians in Louisville and Lexington slammed the fallout from Kentucky’s almost total ban on the procedure.

Morgan McGarvey, abortion
U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey, left, with state Sen. Karen Berg celebrated defeat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in Kentucky in November 2022. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Arden Barnes)

Kentucky’s U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey was in Louisville Monday morning alongside Planned Parenthood and others to say “the law in Kentucky is extreme; it is cruel, and it is harming women and families.” 

In Lexington, abortion access advocates with the Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund (KRFF) announced a campaign that will include billboards, trucks and digital ads to “call attention to the harmful effects these bans have on the medical community and all Kentuckians,” said Ona Marshall, who founded KRFF and co-owned Louisville’s EMW Surgical Center, which provided abortions but closed after the ban took effect.

The billboards will go up early next month, she said. 

The campaign will also urge “Kentuckians to sign a pledge calling for an end to the state’s restrictive abortion laws.” Republicans have a supermajority in the state’s legislature, and haven’t appeared willing as a caucus to loosen the abortion restrictions. 

Several physicians who spoke out Monday against the abortion ban said Kentucky’s law is forcing them to delay care and to make decisions that are not the best for patients. Also, they said, the ban is disproportionately burdening lower-income Kentuckians who can’t afford to travel to other states where abortion is legal.

Dr. Alecia Fields, an OB-GYN and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in Lexington that “the aftermath” of the 2022 SCOTUS decision “has been terrifying to witness.” 

Dr. Caitlin Thomas (Screenshot)

“As a doctor, I have been faced with decisions that I never thought possible,” Fields said. “Decisions that are not based on good medicine, but are driven by state law.” 

Dr. Caitlin Thomas, another OB-GYN, said unplanned and unwanted pregnancies can put Kentuckians in difficult situations. 

“Individuals who are not in physical, financial or emotional states to continue pregnancies are left with a difficult decision on whether they need to travel out of state for abortion or to continue pregnancy and suboptimal conditions,” Thomas said. “Furthermore, this creates a dichotomy where only those with means are able to have full control of their reproductive decisions, leaving those most vulnerable without appropriate options.”  

Dr. Callyn Samuel (screeshot)

Dr. Callyn Samuel, an OB-GYN who spoke in Louisville, said she’s seeing high risk women forced to carry a complicated pregnancies to her. Providers, she said, greatly fear “legal ramifications” for treating complicated conditions. 

“We as providers now also have to fill out quite lengthy paperwork for patients who come in with simple things (like) ectopic pregnancies — that are emergencies at times — and even to the point where we’re having to fill this paperwork out before we’re able to provide care to them, which has halted their care and definitely caused harm…by not allowing their care to be performed as soon as possible,” Samuel said. 

‘Fear and intimidation’

Rebecca Gibron, the CEO of the Planned Parenthood chapter that includes Kentucky, said the ban is forcing survivors of rape into difficult decisions. 

“These survivors are forced to stay pregnant here if they can’t afford to find care outside of Kentucky,” Gibron said in Louisville. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, which had guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion, in 2022, a “trigger law” went into effect in Kentucky that banned abortions. Another law bans abortions after six weeks. Doctors have previously said many people don’t know they’re pregnant at the six-week mark

That same year, Kentucky voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment that would have stated definitely that  there is no right to an abortion in Kentucky’s Constitution.

Kentucky does not have exceptions for rape or incest, though both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have filed unsuccessful bills to change that in recent years. There is an exception in cases where the life of the pregnant person is at risk. 

Physicians bring message to Frankfort: Abortion bans forcing us to violate our oath to do no harm

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others have argued to no avail that the restrictions Kentucky has in place are unconstitutional. 

Amber Duke, the executive director of Kentucky’s ACLU chapter, said her goal is to “keep fighting until our right to access the full range of care is restored.” The ACLU represented an anonymous plaintiff in December who said she was pregnant but didn’t want to be

Jane Doe and the ACLU sued then-Attorney General Daniel Cameron in an effort to access abortion in the state. Her case was dismissed a week before Christmas after her fetus lost cardiac activity and the pregnancy became nonviable. 

Marshall with KRFF said the abortion law in Kentucky is “incredibly vague related to when an abortion can be provided to save a patient’s life.” 

“Why should politicians decide how far her health must deteriorate before physicians can act? The laws create an environment of fear for doctors and hospitals alike,” Marshall said. “How do you practice medicine in an atmosphere of intentional fear and intimidation?” 

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