Federal court hears appeal in Kentucky abortion ultrasound case
CINCINNATI (WDRB) -- A battle over a Kentucky abortion law played out in the nation's second-highest court as a panel of judges from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The General Assembly passed, and Gov. Matt Bevin signed, the Informed Consent Law, House Bill 2, early last year.
It requires doctors to show and describe ultrasounds to their patients before an abortion, and to make the fetal heartbeat audible.
The ACLU sued on behalf of Louisville's EMW clinic. A U.S. District Judge in Louisville struck down Kentucky’s new ultrasound law last year, and the Bevin administration appealed.
During a 45-minute hearing before a three judge appeals court panel, the ACLU said the law violates free speech.
“The government is trying to intrude on the most important and sort of sacred patient-physician relationship,” ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told WDRB in an interview after the hearing.
Chad Meredith, an attorney for the Bevin administration, argued the state has the right to regulate the practice of medicine.
“And it's always been the case that state legislatures can set requirements on physicians’ informed consent practices, and that's all that House Bill 2 does,” Meredith told WDRB.
The judges – Alan Norris, Bernice Donald, and John Bush - sharply questioned both sides, as the ACLU tried the make the case that the law goes beyond Informed Consent.
“Anybody who’s ever had a medical procedure performed knows what informed consent looks like,” said Kolbi-Molinas. “And it doesn't look like your doctor forcing words and images on you while you are sobbing and hiding your head in your shirt.”
Meredith attempted to strip the case down to the legal basics.
“It’s a regulation of professional conduct, and it only incidentally involves speech, so the First Amendment really isn't implicated,” he said.
It is uncertain whether the case will ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think it's probably unlikely we go to the Supreme Court,” said Meredith.
“I think we just don't know now whether this would ever end up there,” Kolbi-Molinas said.
A decision could take months. Judge Donald said only the court will rule “in due course.”
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