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Kentucky AG sues over abortion law blocked by federal court

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Timothy D. Easley/AP
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FR43398 AP
FILE - Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron speaks during a news conference in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 23, 2020. Cameron signaled Sunday, March 27, 2022 that he's keeping his options open for Kentucky's 2023 election, tantalizingly adding more suspense to the evolving GOP competition to pick a challenger to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Kentucky’s Republican attorney general went to court Tuesday claiming the Democratic governor’s administration missed a deadline to set up a regulatory process for a sweeping new abortion law currently blocked by a federal court order.

In a maneuver loaded with political and legal implications, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in his lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration that state officials are still obligated to craft regulations and create forms associated with the new law’s restrictions, even though a federal judge temporarily halted its enforcement while the case is litigated. Cameron, who has filed paperwork to run for governor himself next year, said that order didn’t relieve the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services from fulfilling its “statutory responsibilities.”

Beshear’s office deflected questions about the lawsuit to the cabinet, whose secretary was named as the defendant. Cabinet spokeswoman Susan Dunlap responded that Cameron’s lawsuit was a “baseless and blatant political stunt.” The back-and-forth adds more fuel to the intensifying political rivalry between Cameron and Beshear, who could face off in the 2023 governor’s race if they win their parties’ respective nominations. It also sends another loud signal that Republicans will try to make abortion a key issue of the campaign.

The state’s GOP-dominated legislature this spring overrode Beshear’s veto to pass the new measure. It would ban abortions after 15 weeks and set up new oversight of medication abortion.

Abortions in Kentucky halted for several days when the two remaining abortion clinics said they couldn’t immediately comply with new law because its regulations had not been created. The clinics, both in Louisville, resumed abortions after the law was halted temporarily.

Cameron’s lawsuit against Beshear’s administration comes against the politically charged backdrop of the state’s 2023 campaign for governor, which is well underway. Cameron is seeking the GOP nomination against several rivals — all jockeying for support from the party’s ardently anti-abortion base. Beshear, who supports abortion rights, is seeking a second term.

The suit also comes as the nation awaits word whether the nation’s highest court will scrap the constitutional right to abortion. A leak of a draft opinion suggested the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Cameron, on the losing end of the preliminary federal court rulings on the abortion law, asked a state judge to order Beshear’s administration to immediately create the forms required, claiming the 60-day deadline had passed. The suit also seeks implementation of the corresponding regulations.

“Failure to act is not an option, and our lawsuit asks the court to direct the governor and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to follow the law,” Cameron said in a news release.

Dunlap, the cabinet spokeswoman, said the agency “has not refused to comply with any requirements.” The cabinet told Cameron’s office that it would “work through the federal court that has jurisdiction over this matter,” she said.

“In response, the attorney general sent threatening letters to the cabinet asking us to ignore the court’s orders and today defied the federal court by trying to go around it,” she said.

Kentucky’s GOP-dominated legislature this spring overrode Beshear’s veto to pass the new abortion measure. It would ban abortions after 15 weeks, replacing the state’s 20-week limit.

It also would require that women be examined by a doctor before receiving abortion pills and require fetal remains to be buried or cremated. And it would require the state to set up a process to certify and oversee manufacturers and distributors of medication used to terminate a pregnancy. About half of abortions in Kentucky are the result of medication procedures.

Two abortion-rights groups -- Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky -- said Cameron’s lawsuit doesn’t “change the status of the preliminary injunction” -- the federal court action temporarily blocking the abortion measure.

“Abortion is still legal in Kentucky,” the two groups said in the statement.