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Abortion back before Kentucky Supreme Court following voters' rejection of constitutional amendment

Shanon Goodlett

A week after Kentuckians voted down a ballot measure that would have stripped any abortion protections from the state constitution, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue Tuesday.

With a final ruling on the constitutionality of Kentucky's abortion restrictions still a ways off, the high court is weighing whether to block an abortion ban while the legal challenge winds its way through the court system.

As for whether the recent failed amendment vote should play any role in the case, Matt Kuhn with the Office of the Attorney General told justices the constitution itself hasn’t changed — and neither has opponents’ argument that abortion rights are not implicit in the document.

"I do recognize that the vote happened. The vote was very close and I think the closeness of the vote, if you can read anything into it, it's that it's a divisive issue, which we think reemphasizes the point that the court should leave this to our General Assembly as the constitution, we would argue, does."
Matt Kuhn, Office of the Kentucky Attorney General

But Justice Michelle Keller countered that the General Assembly must have thought it was necessary to codify anti-abortion language in the constitution.

"I'm struggling with why then the General Assembly thought it so important to put that initiative on the ballot to amend the constitution because, if nothing else, it costs thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars to do that. So what was important about that second question on the ballot to the General Assembly?"
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller

The court went on to examine issues surrounding the intent of the constitution’s authors, who has standing in the case, and how abortion restrictions might be set if the court found that the document does protect abortion rights.

Heather Gatnerek, an ACLU attorney representing the state’s abortion clinics, said that the legislature has shown no interest in balancing competing interests on the issue.

"We do not yet have before us any evidence that this General Assembly is interested in undertaking a thoughtful balancing between the state's interest and individual privacy and self-determination rights," Gatnerek told the court. "But even so, with these laws currently being in effect right now, there are people being harmed in Kentucky."

For now, there is no deadline facing the justices, but any future decision in the case will likely be returned to Jefferson Circuit Court.

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.