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Supreme Court Case Could Chart New Course For Ky. Abortion Laws


Laws placing added restrictions on abortion providers go under the microscope Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court. And while the high court is hearing oral arguments on the Texas-based Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt case, the outcome could have implications for the Kentucky General Assembly – where anti-abortion advocates are enjoying new momentum.

The now even-numbered court is slated to begin weighing the constitutionality of provisions in a hotly-contested 2013 bill outlining new requirements for abortion providers and clinics. But Texas is far from alone in seeking tighter restrictions, both on abortion providers and women seeking them out. State legislatures across the country – including the Kentucky General Assembly – have been pursuing the strategy to push back against the 1973 Roe. Vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

"Until we get a president and a Supreme Court that is committed to the overturning of this heinous piece of case law, it is up to us in the states to do what we can to protect these unborn babies," Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told his colleagues on the chamber floor in February.

Others worry the measures are chipping away at basic access, especially for rural and low-income women, and doing long-lasting damage to the right to privacy.

"If we start to wear away at the right, we need to really think about what might happen further down the road," Nicole Huberfeld, a research professor at the UK College of Law, says.

Arguments this week before the high court will deal with what are often called TRAP Laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. This newer trend sees legislators requiring physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, institute facility upgrades, and acquire new licenses. Proponents argue the changes protect women's health while detractors maintain the mandates do nothing but move the goalposts in an effort to shut down more clinics.

In Kentucky, the bills on the move this session have primarily dealt with interactions between women and their doctors, but a reliable list of additional abortion measures await committee hearings and floor debate. An increasingly delicate Democratic majority in the House has opened the door for the long-sought-after  legislation this session.

With an avowed pro-life governor just beginning his first term and the GOP eyeing control in both chambers, the Supreme Court ruling could determine the shape of the debate in the commonwealth in the years to come.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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