Less than 24 hours after the Kentucky House passed Senate Bill 9 (SB9), the fetal heartbeat bill, with a vote of 71 to 19, a federal judge has issued a temporary order prohibiting the state from enforcing its new law. The move comes on the heels of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the constitutionality of the bill.
SB9 prohibits most abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks into the pregnancy. The bill overwhelmingly passed the Kentucky Senate in February, by a vote of 31 to 6. Following the House’s approval on Thursday evening, Governor Matt Bevin signed it into law yesterday. The law immediately went into effect, thanks to the addition of an emergency clause.
The ACLU wasted no time in challenging the law, calling it “unconstitutional,” since many women may not know that they are pregnant by six weeks. In addition, the ACLU is also challenging House Bill 5 (HB5). That bill prohibits abortion based on the baby’s race, gender, or disability. It too passed the House on Thursday evening, but was still awaiting the governor’s signature.
U.S. District Judge David Hale issued the temporary restraining order, which covers both SB 9 and HB 5, in part because he believes that the ACLU would have a good chance of success in their legal battle. The order went into effect at 7:40 p.m. on March 15, and is set to expire in 14 days. The courts will next hold a hearing on the matter.
“The Supreme Court has stated in no uncertain terms that regardless of whether exceptions are made for particular circumstances, a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” Hale’s order read. He also claimed that with the passage of the law, patients “would be immediately and irreparably harmed absent a temporary restraining order from this court.”
Following the judge’s order, the state’s only abortion facility, EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, was seeing patients on Saturday, after briefly closing due to the new law on Friday.
Despite the holdup in the courts, many of Kentucky’s pro-life Republicans are optimistic. Rep. Chris Fugate, who introduced the bill in the House, previously dismissed concerns saying to the Courier Journal, “I’m not operating on fear of the Supreme Court. This bill is to save the life of the unborn who are crying out and saying, ‘I want to live,’ every time their heart pumps blood.”
Gov. Bevin responded to the ACLU on Twitter, saying, “Bring it! Kentucky will always fight for life…. Always!”
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