Kentucky's newest abortion law seeks to prevent a "barbaric" procedure while a fetus is alive in the womb, Gov. Matt Bevin's legal team said in urging a federal judge to reject efforts to prolong delaying the restrictions.
The Republican governor's lawyers filed a court brief this week urging the judge to deny a request for a preliminary injunction that would further delay the law's enforcement.
The law, passed by Kentucky legislators and enacted by the governor earlier this year, is aimed at a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation." The restrictions are being challenged by the state's last abortion clinic in a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.
It's the latest round in a legal fight between Bevin — an abortion opponent — and the ACLU.
The law was temporarily put on hold last month when a judge signed a joint consent order. State officials agreed to take no action to enforce the law pending a ruling on the ACLU's request for the preliminary injunction. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled next month.
For women in their second trimester who would be affected by the new law, the result would be "extinguished access" to abortion in Kentucky, the suit said.
Bevin's lawyers disputed that, saying the law does not ban the "dilation and evacuation" procedure. Instead, it requires abortion doctors performing D&E procedures to first cause the fetus's death through a "more humane" method other than "ripping the live fetus apart," they said.
The dilation and evacuation procedure was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions done in Kentucky in 2016, according to state statistics. The new law would apply to use of the procedure on fetuses 11 weeks after fertilization.
Bevin's lawyers said the state has a "compelling and legitimate" interest in protecting the unborn from a procedure they described as "tearing a living, unborn child apart."
"Should this barbaric and gruesome procedure be permitted to continue, the commonwealth's interests in respecting unborn life and protecting and upholding the integrity of the medical profession will continue to be frustrated," said Bevin's team, led by his general counsel, Steve Pitt. "Living, unborn children will continue to be dismembered."
The ACLU declined comment Wednesday on the state's arguments.
Abortion providers violating the new law would be guilty of a felony that carries up to five years in prison. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.
The lawsuit challenging the law says the only other medically proven abortion method available after the earliest weeks of the second trimester is a procedure performed in hospitals or similar facilities able to admit and monitor patients overnight. Hospital-based abortions are available only in "extremely rare circumstances" in Kentucky, it said.
"Therefore, Kentucky women have essentially no other option but to obtain abortions in an outpatient facility, and starting early in the second trimester, D&E is the only outpatient method of abortion," the suit said.