The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that a Lexington abortion clinic must close pending a new license, reversing a lower court ruling that had allowed the clinic to remain open.
Attorneys from the state sued the EMW Women’s Clinic in early March, arguing that it lacked a license required by the state to perform abortions. Under Kentucky law, physicians’ offices that perform a variety of services do not have to be licensed separately to perform abortions; the clinic had been operating as one such office.
But attorneys for the State of Kentucky argue that because EMW Women’s Clinic performed more than 400 abortions in 2015—what the state regards as a substantial amount of business—it is a stand-alone abortion clinic and subject to the state’s licensure requirements for such facilities. These requirements include agreements with a local hospital and an ambulance service. The EMW clinic now has both, although the state said the clinic did not have an agreement with an ambulance service at the time of its inspection in February.
In March, Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone denied the state’s request to close the clinic as the lawsuit proceeded, ruling that the state had failed to present enough evidence the facility was in violation of the licensure requirement to justify shuttering it in the meantime. Scorsone also ruled closing the clinic would be against the public interest, because it is the only physician’s office that routinely provides abortion services in the eastern half of Kentucky.
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But the appellate court overturned that decision Wednesday and ruled the EMW Women’s Clinic was “temporarily enjoined from operating an abortion facility” until it receives a license from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services—a political board—or until a final judgment is rendered in this case, whichever comes first.
“The cabinet [for Health and Family Services] is not seeking to prevent women from obtaining abortions. It is seeking, however, to enforce its right to regulate the manner in which abortions are performed in this commonwealth,” the ruling stated.
Gov. Matt Bevin (R) called the ruling an “important victory for the rule of law in Kentucky.”
“We are pleased by the court’s recognition that an unlicensed abortion clinic is prohibited from performing abortions,” he said in a statement. “This has been our administration’s stance from the beginning. This is the right and necessary ruling to ensure that the health and safety of women are protected.”
Attorneys for the clinic are considering whether to let the ruling stand and the case continue on, or to make an immediate appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In the meantime, EMW Women’s Clinic will stop offering abortions. That leaves patients in Eastern Kentucky who need an abortion with only one remaining option: a stand-alone clinic in Louisville.