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Last Clinic Standing: Could Kentucky Go ‘Abortion Free’?

The Planned Parenthood facility in Louisville, Ky., is pictured on Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

The EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is Kentucky’s last abortion provider. It is only serving women now because a federal judge ruled that its doors should stay open.

Kentucky health officials ordered it closed because EMW doesn’t have a transfer agreement with a nearby hospital and ambulance company to take care of medical emergencies. That’s a violation of Kentucky law.

The order to close EMW in March followed a successful effort to shut down the EMW clinic in Lexington in January.

In response to the Lexington EMW clinic closing, the Kentucky Chapter of the National Organization for Women posted on its Facebook page that the facility was “a permanent casualty of Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin,” and “there is, indeed, a chill wind blowing for women of Kentucky.”

Here’s the breeze they fear: If anti-abortion lawmakers in the state’s legislature have their way, Kentucky will become the only state in the nation without a single abortion clinic.

State officials sent a letter to EMW on March 13 ordering the Louisville clinic to be closed because, they said, the clinic was in violation of a Kentucky law that requires abortion facilities to have emergency medical agreements with hospitals and ambulance companies.

The ACLU of Kentucky filed a lawsuit on behalf of the clinic in March to stop the closure order, which would have taken effect April 3. U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers then issued a follow-up order April 10 mandating that the EMW Louisville clinic should stay open until the lawsuit was resolved.

The case won’t go to trial until the first week of September. The state of Kentucky has agreed to stop trying to close the clinic until the case is resolved. The clinic’s license has been renewed through May 31, 2018.

Proponents of the Kentucky law mandating abortion clinics sign transfer agreements with area hospitals and ambulance companies said they were only trying to ensure the safety of the facilities’ patients.

“They’re stupid,” Donald Cox, an attorney who represented the ACLU and EMW, told the Courier-Journal. “Why do you need a transfer agreement when the hospital is right down the street and has an obligation under federal law to take any patient who shows up at the door?”

The ACLU has also argued that complications from abortions are rare and there is no need to mandate transfer agreements to rush patients to nearby hospitals.

However, Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, said his group had already documented 14 cases of medical emergencies at abortion clinics this year.

“While abortion supporters shrug off and downplay such medical emergencies,” Newman said, “for those women, their pain is very real and life-altering. Abortionists are not above the law.”

Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the Associated Press state officials remain confident their side will win.

“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.

If Kentucky should lose its last clinic, residents who want an abortion would have to go to the neighboring states of Illinois and Tennessee for the procedure.

“Those states have rather arduous so-called informed consent requirements, so women have to go and stay for a couple of days or make a couple of trips,” Kate Cunningham, the president of the A Fund, a volunteer group that helps women in Kentucky pay for abortions, told Newsweek. “There’s nothing easy about it.”

“Before Roe, there were women driving through the night to take women from Louisville to New York to access abortion,” Cunningham added. “We hope and trust we don’t have to go back there, to those days, but that’s where we are. It’s so tough.”

Newman said shutting down the last abortion clinic standing in Kentucky would be “a precedent-setting accomplishment.” He only hopes it will lead to other states becoming “abortion free.”

But he disputed the EMW/ACLU contention that “the sky is falling and the world will end if their abortion business is closed.”

“If Kentucky can close its last abortion facility, it will prove that it is possible to have an abortion-free state without bringing on the apocalypse that abortionists predict,” Newman said. “In fact, they may find that when an abortion business isn’t marketing abortions to women, they are actually better off.”