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The Kentucky Supreme Court says the two abortion bans should remain in place

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And now to Kentucky, where today the state's Supreme Court decided the state's two laws banning abortion should remain in place. The decision comes months after a ballot question in the November election, where a majority of Kentucky voters sided with abortion rights. Now, the decision on whether to ban the procedure goes back to a lower state court. But today's news does not bode well for abortion rights advocates. Divya Karthikeyan, capitol reporter at Kentucky Public Radio, joins us now for more. Welcome.

DIVYA KARTHIKEYAN, BYLINE: Thank you. Hi.

CHANG: All right. Hi. OK. So break this down a little more for us. What does this decision mean exactly?

KARTHIKEYAN: So currently, abortion is illegal in the state of Kentucky. And we have two laws here. We have the trigger law, which automatically bans abortion except in life-threatening cases, and we have a ban on abortion after six weeks. So the Kentucky Supreme Court had heard challenges to those bans. And, you know, we're getting this ruling more than two months later. And this ruling today would allow these two abortion bans to remain in place. Now the Supreme Court here is throwing it back to a lower court to decide on the larger questions here and merits - you know, the main merit being is the right to an abortion a constitutional right at all in Kentucky? We have the right to privacy and self-determination in our state constitution, and that's what abortion rights advocates say their argument is based on.

CHANG: And remind us why this case was so closely watched.

KARTHIKEYAN: So in June 2022, you know, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, this trigger law immediately came into effect, and that meant nearly all abortions were illegal. This was a law enacted by the legislature in 2019, and there was outcry that these bans were not representative of what Kentuckians wanted. And so voters in Kentucky had this opportunity to weigh in on that in last year's election. We had a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would say there is no right to an abortion in the constitution. We had over 60% of voters cast their ballot in support of abortion rights. This was all happening when we had legal tussle playing out in the courts and a legislature that was mulling on more restrictions. So the abortion rights issue for people in Kentucky really hinge on so many other factors beyond their control. I think that's why it's so closely watched.

CHANG: Yeah. So what's been the reaction so far to the state Supreme Court decision?

KARTHIKEYAN: So the Republican attorney general - Daniel Cameron, he's also running for governor - he's pursued challenges to abortion rights in the past. And he said, quote, "this is a significant victory, and we will continue to stand up for the unborn by defending these laws." And ACLU Kentucky, which defended the two only abortion providers in court, said the ruling was a huge disappointment. Here's communications director Angela Cooper.

ANGELA COOPER: We had hoped that we would be able to resume abortion care in Kentucky since it is an incredibly important health care service. However, we were also prepared for this, and our legal team continues to strategize about how they will approach this with a lower court.

CHANG: Well, that's a good question. What exactly happens now in Kentucky in terms of abortion access?

KARTHIKEYAN: So abortion remains illegal. We now have a Republican supermajority in our legislature. I've been covering the session very closely. We're seeing a lot of Republicans file some restrictive bills - one this week would treat abortion as homicide. And maybe Republicans might be interested in a bill that would provide exceptions for rape and incest. We don't know yet. The ACLU is saying they're working on a strategy for when the case goes to a lower court. Right now, the only way a pregnant person in Kentucky can get an abortion, unless their life is at risk, is to travel to neighboring states like Illinois or Virginia.

CHANG: That is Divya Karthikeyan, capitol reporter at Kentucky Public Radio. Thank you, Divya.

KARTHIKEYAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Divya Karthikeyan
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