AG hopes to press anew for struck-down Kentucky abortion law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's Republican attorney general laid out his strategy Wednesday to champion his state's embattled abortion law in court, calling his office the “last line of defense" for the measure that would block a second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his first goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to let him defend the 2018 law, which was previously struck down by lower courts. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the procedural dispute and scheduled a hearing next Tuesday.

Addressing anti-abortion advocates in a light rain outside the state Capitol, Cameron said he should have the opportunity to ”make sure that we exhaust all avenues in defending our laws.”

“We’re going to respect life here in Kentucky,” Cameron told those gathered. “We’re going to protect those who cannot speak for themselves. And I think that is an important responsibility of government, to make sure that we’re looking out for the most vulnerable.”

The disputed Kentucky law took aim at an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation,” in which the fetus is removed with instruments. Abortion opponents call it “barbaric and gruesome.” Abortion-rights supporters say it’s a safe method for terminating a pregnancy.

The procedure accounted for about 300 of the 3,200 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2018, the year the law was passed, according to a report in the Courier Journal newspaper.

If Cameron prevails on the procedural issue, he said, he wants to give the law a second chance before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The law was struck down by a federal district judge in Kentucky in 2019, and a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld that ruling.

The law's opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union. Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, declared “enough is enough" in pushing back against Cameron's efforts to defend it.

“Two courts already held that this law violates the rights of Kentuckians,” Kolbi-Molinas said in a statement Wednesday. “The Supreme Court ought to put an end to the attorney general’s attempts to force people to continue their pregnancies against their will. Politicians across the country are using every tool in the shed to push abortion further and further out of reach."

Elsewhere, a federal judge ordered Texas late Wednesday to suspend the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, which had banned most of those procedures in that state since early September. The law had sought to ban abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant. It was just one of the laws setting up the biggest test of abortion rights in the U.S. in decades — part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion.

In striking down the Kentucky law, the federal district judge said it would create a “substantial obstacle” to a woman’s right to an abortion, violating constitutionally protected privacy rights.

Cameron's appeal on the procedural issue stems from changes at the top of Kentucky government.

The disputed law was backed by former Gov. Matt Bevin, an anti-abortion Republican who was ousted in the 2019 election by Democrat Andy Beshear, who supports abortion rights. Beshear's administration decided to drop the case after the 6th Circuit panel ruled against the law.

Cameron, who succeeded Beshear as attorney general, then tried to intervene in hopes of appealing the case. The 6th Circuit rejected his request, saying his attempt to intervene came too late, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter.

Matt Kuhn, the state’s principal deputy solicitor general, will argue Cameron’s case before the Supreme Court next week.

“If we ultimately prevail, the court will be saying without question that a state has a right to defend itself with the official representative of its choosing," Cameron said Wednesday. "That regardless of what other agencies or branches of government might decide, that here in Kentucky the attorney general’s office stands as a fail safe to ensure that the commonwealth’s laws can always be defended.”

Some prominent Kentucky lawmakers defined it as a matter of state sovereignty for Cameron's office to be able to defend the legislature's actions.

“This is all about sovereignty and ... who has the right to defend the laws of a particular state in the public square,” said Republican state Rep. Joseph Fischer.