It’s been more than four decades since the Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to have an abortion—but for Kentucky women, that right may soon only be theoretical. There’s only one surgical abortion provider in the entire state, and it’s on the brink of shutting down.
A series of legal battles and continued protests have put the fate of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, in Louisville, in question, according to Ernest Marshall, a doctor at the clinic.
“We have never been under siege like this,” Marshall told Splinter. “We have never had any question as to whether we would exist.”
The clinic’s legal battles began when Gov. Matt Bevin, who is fervently anti-abortion, was elected two years ago. Under his leadership, and with Republicans in control of the state house, the legislature passed two bills that would restrict abortion. One banned the procedure after 20 weeks, and the other required that doctors “narrate ultrasounds in detail, regardless of patients’ wishes,” according to The New York Times.
Bevin then sought to close the state’s handful of abortion clinics, primarily by having their licenses revoked. He alleges that the clinics—EMW included—don’t have sufficient “transfer agreements” with local hospital and ambulance services.
Similar legal battles have taken place elsewhere in the country, including in Texas, where the Supreme Court struck down a requirement that clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals just last year. Over the course of the court battle, several Texas abortion clinics had closed.
“We are a pro-life state,” Bevin said in a video released by his office. “It is a state where the vast majority of Kentuckians value the sanctity of human life, and want to protect it to the absolute degree possible.”
As the legal battle rages on, an anti-abortion group called Operation Save America has taken to staging massive protests outside the clinic on a daily basis. Although a federal judge issued a restraining order against the group earlier this week, protesters have continued to demonstrate in a “buffer zone” nearby.
“We feel like Kentucky stands ready to be the first state without an abortion center,” Pastor Joseph Spurgeon, a local Operation Save America, said.
Clinic escorts, who volunteer to bring patients into the clinic and shield them from harassment, told Splinter that they’ve been dealing with protesters on a regular basis.
“I see a lot of intimidation tactics,” Meg Stern, one volunteer, told Splinter.
“Some of the protesters will compare escorts to Nazis, and talk about this being like a concentration camp,” she added.
Abortion clinics haven’t always been so difficult to find in Kentucky. In 1978, there were more than 17 providers in the state, according to The New York Times.
If the governor succeeds at getting EMW’s license revoked, that number will go down to zero.
A trial to determine the fate of the clinic is set for September.