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'Our last backstop.' With Roe struck down, all eyes will shift to Kentucky's state constitution

Steve Helber/AP
Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling upending Roe v. Wade will send the battle over abortion rights to the states.

Kentucky is one of more than a dozen states with what are known as “trigger laws,” meant to automatically institute abortion bans in the event Roe is overturned. Now that the court has done just that, Samuel Crankshaw with the ACLU says his group is recommending the state’s abortion providers halt the procedures.

"Anti-abortion prosecutors are likely to argue that the 2019 trigger law is now in effect, so as a precaution we've advised our client to stop providing all care, and our legal team is currently analyzing how this opinion relates to existing state and federal laws," he tells WUKY.

Crankshaw says focus will now likely fall on Kentucky's state constitution.

"We plan to sue in state court arguing that the state constitution provides the legal protections to access abortion," he explains.

Nicole Erwin with Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Kentucky also points to the constitution as the next battleground.

"A lot of people are going to be asking what can they do to fight back, and what they can do is show up and vote no on ballot measure 2 this November," she says. "Because last year the Kentucky General Assembly put abortion on the ballot with the Constitutional Amendment challenge."

"The state constitution is our last backstop in being able to protect abortion access in the state."
Nicole Erwin, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Kentucky

This fall, Kentucky voters will have the option to include language in the state constitution explicitly stating that abortion rights are not secured or protected by the document.

In the meantime, the state’s top law enforcement officer, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, is hailing the high court decision as one that will allow Kentucky laws to “reflect our values.”

"In the Dobbs decision, the United States Supreme Court declared that states are the sources of authority in protecting unborn life. The court has recognized that our laws should reflect our values. In Kentucky, that value has been to preserve life. The unborn have the same rights to life as you and me."
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron

Asked about legal challenges from the ACLU, Cameron had this response.

"I'm not going to be in the position of giving the ACLU any legal advice. All I can say is that in Kentucky, our law has gone into effect now and I think this is a day and a cause for celebration," the Republican said.

But celebration is the last thing on the mind of abortion rights advocates.

"We are outraged and we are devastated, but most importantly, we're ready to fight like hell," Nicole Erwin says.

Her organization is already holding rallies in Lexington and Louisville to raise awareness about the constitutional amendment on the ballot this year and to tell the story of how the ruling will affect the people they serve.

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.