Nearly all abortion services in Kentucky immediately became illegal Friday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Stacey Davis, executive director of Right To Life of Owensboro, said it was a great day but there’s still more work to be done.
“This is something that our organizations as well as other Right to Life organizations have been fighting and praying for, so God is so good,” Davis said. “Our organization was created because Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the United States, so for the last 49 years we’ve existed for this day.”
Earlier this year, documents were leaked that suggested the Supreme Court would be overturning Roe vs. Wade. Davis said they were encouraged by that news, but didn’t want to count on anything until a decision was formally announced.
“We were expecting this, but you don’t count the chickens before they hatch,” she said. “We felt like with science and with everything that this day was going to come. When that was leaked, it kind of made sense. But just to now have that ruling made, we can take a little breath. It was a day there for a while that we didn’t think would come.”
Davis added, “I always say if the womb had windows that abortion would be illegal, and that’s kind of what science has done for us.”
The Supreme Court decision puts the decision of abortion into the hands of each state. Kentucky was one of several states that previously enacted a “trigger law” in case the landmark ruling establishing abortion as a constitutional right was ever reversed.
Under 2019’s KY House Bill 148, anybody who performs an abortion or administers medication to terminate a pregnancy is guilty of a class D felony, which is punishable by as many as five years in prison. However, it states that no criminal penalties will be imposed on a pregnant woman.
The law includes an exception that allows a “to prevent the death or substantial risk of death due to a physical condition, or to prevent the serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ of a pregnant woman.” It does not include exceptions for those seeking an abortion after rape or incest.
Kentucky is one of 13 states that had a trigger ban, but is one of only three whose ban went into effect immediately (along with Louisiana and South Dakota), according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit policy and resource organization that advocates for abortion rights.
“In 2019 when that trigger law was put into place, we knew if this day came that it would be amazing,” Davis said. “We have (two abortion clinics) left in Kentucky, and now we know they can’t operate. So to us, that’s just thousands of babies lives in our state that are saved. We just focus on that. It’s just a great day.”
Kentucky had two providers, both in Louisville, that offered abortion services — Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center.
Kentucky already banned abortions after 20 weeks, but all abortion services were temporarily halted in April after the legislature imposed new restrictions and reporting requirements on the state’s two abortion clinics, according to the Associated Press. The clinics said they suspended abortions because state officials hadn’t written guidelines on how to comply with the new law. Abortions resumed after a federal judge temporarily blocked key parts of the law, including a provision banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Davis said while this was a major victory for pro-life activists, their work is not done.
“It’s a great day to rejoice. However, we know that the other side is not going to back down,” she said. “We want to make sure that women are educated on what an abortion is, because there’s going to be some states that are going to fight against this legislative piece, and states are going to govern themselves. Just because they can’t get an abortion in Kentucky doesn’t mean that they can’t go two states over. We want to make sure that we’re still educating women that this is a baby, and make abortion unthinkable not just illegal.”
Davis said while their organization is most known for advocating for the unborn, their focus doesn’t stop there.
“A lot of times in the pro-life movement, we hear ‘You only care about the unborn. You want to make women stay pregnant.’ So our focus right now is creating a Safe Haven baby box. In the first 30 days of birth, a mom can relinquish their baby in a safe spot,” Davis said.
Baby boxes are now approved for the state of Kentucky after House Bill 155 was passed this year. Baby boxes are installed at specific locations such as a hospital or fire station, utilizing an alarm system to signal that a baby has been placed inside. This option is a safe alternative for mothers who have decided they are not ready or able to take care of their newborns.
Davis said Right to Life is under contract with Safe Haven for a baby box to be installed at the fire station at 9th and Locust streets. She said they have to raise $13,000 for the box.
“We care about all life, from the moment of conception until natural death,” she said. “That’s everything in between as well, so that is one of our focuses.”
Kentucky could also enact further legislature regarding abortions later this year. On the Nov. 8 ballot, Kentucky voters will have the opportunity to vote for House Bill 91, a proposed constitutional amendment that states there would be no right to abortion or funding for abortion. Nicknamed “Yes for Life,” if the amendment is passed by voters, the Constitution would prevent a state judge from inventing a right to abortion in Kentucky in the future.
Many local and state legislators quickly responded to the ruling, with Republicans praising the ruling and Democrats saying Kentucky’s abortion laws are too harsh.
State Senator Matt Castlen has played a major role in the passage of pro-life bills during his time in the legislature. Perhaps most notably, he sponsored the 2019 Fetal Heartbeat Bill, which banned abortions in Kentucky after a heartbeat is detected – usually about six weeks into pregnancy.
“To God be the glory. I’m glad He could use me as a vessel to join the fight for life,” Castlen said following the Supreme Court ruling. “Now it’s time for the church to come along side moms and support adoption, foster care, and mentoring in every way possible.”
Gov. Andy Beshear said “Today’s decision triggers an extremist Kentucky law that creates a total ban in Kentucky that will eliminate all options for victims of rape or incest. As the former chief prosecutor of Kentucky, I know that these violent crimes happen, and not having options for victims of rape and incest is wrong.”
Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the moment deserves to be celebrated, but it also calls for renewed commitment.
“Our General Assembly has already passed laws that protect unborn babies and ensure the health and safety of women. We’ve defended many of these pro-life laws in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe and Casey prevented some from taking effect. That changes today,” he said. “We are entering a new era. No longer will unelected judges make abortion policy for the Commonwealth. Instead, our elected representatives will be able to make public policy that reflects the values of Kentuckians and our deeply held respect for unborn life.”
Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge released a statement that reads in part “This extreme ban rips away choice from those who already had the fewest options to begin with, or even none at all, including victims of violent crime. To the women of our Commonwealth who, with the news today, are outraged and worried, know you are seen, you are heard, you are loved. While the court has rolled back rights that have been yours for almost 50 years, we will not stop fighting.”
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the ruling “is courageous and correct. This is an historic victory for the Constitution and for the most vulnerable in our society. … Millions of Americans have spent half a century praying, marching, and working toward today’s historic victories for the rule of law and for innocent life. I have been proud to stand with them throughout our long journey and I share their joy today.”
Congressman Brett Guthrie said the “ruling is a significant victory and sets a new precedent for unborn babies’ right to life. … Despite this monumental ruling, the work is never over to protect the dignity of life. … I will continue to stand up for the right to life [and] vote for polices that prohibit federal taxpayer dollars from going towards funding abortions.”