In light of a newly-filed lawsuit, a federal judge has temporarily blocked Kentucky's heartbeat abortion law from going into place. The law was slated to go into effect immediately after Gov. Matt Bevin signed it into law on Friday. However, Judge David J. Hale paused the law's enactment for 14 days, to allow time for him to schedule a hearing, according to The New York Times.
The law would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Oftentimes that occurs as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many women are even aware that they are pregnant.
“Anti-abortion extremists have already shut down all but one abortion clinic in Kentucky," said Heather Gatnarek, an ACLU of Kentucky staff attorney, in a statement. "Now they want to push care totally out of reach for many Kentuckians with this patently unconstitutional abortion ban. It’s shameless, insulting, and dangerous."
Indeed, the only remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky is the EMW Women's Surgical Center, according to multiple reports. The ACLU filed the lawsuit challenging the fetal heartbeat law on the center's behalf, the nonprofit said in a press release.
Notably, Kentucky is far from first state to attempt to implement such a stringent ban on abortion access. A slew of other states have introduced similar measures in recent months and years, including Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, and Mississippi, among others, according to CNN.
It's not clear how, exactly, Hale will ultimately rule on Kentucky's fetal heartbeat law, but it's important to note that similar measures in other states have generally failed, per CNN. And over the weekend, the ACLU appeared confident that its legal challenge would be successful.
“We think this is a very straightforward legal issue,” ACLU's Brigitte Amiri said on Saturday, per the Times. (Amiri heads the group's Reproductive Freedom Project.) “States can’t ban abortion. It has been well settled over 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade.”
Gov. Bevin appeared undeterred in spite of the legal challenge. "Bring it!" he tweeted on Wednesday. "Kentucky will always fight for life... Always! #WeAreProLife #WeAreKYGovernor."
And he was not alone in his confidence. Kentucky state Rep. Chris Fugate, who introduced the bill in the first place, told The Courier-Journal that he was not overly concerned about legal challenges to the legislation.
"I'm not operating on fear of the Supreme Court," he said. "This bill is to save the life of the unborn who are crying out and saying, 'I want to live,' every time their heart pumps blood."
Notably, not all abortion opponents endorse so-called "heartbeat bills" as the appropriate legal method for curbing access to the procedure. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich famously vetoed such a measure in his own state in December, pointing to what he said, at the time, would likely be a costly and unsuccessful legal battle to see the law upheld, if it were enacted.
But as has been the case in places where such measures do move forward, pro-choice advocates in Kentucky appear geared up for a fight. Efforts to enact similar bills in other states remain ongoing, according to the ACLU.