Court to decide if Kentucky's attorney general can defend abortion law

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron delivers a live address to the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention from the Mellon Auditorium in Washington Aug. 25, 2020. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has agreed to take on a case next term from Kentucky’s attorney general, who is seeking to defend the state’s abortion law that was struck down by a lower court.

The law, passed in 2018 but blocked by the courts, bans an abortion procedure used after the 15th week of pregnancy. Right after the law was signed by the state’s then-governor, Republican Matt Bevin, it was challenged and blocked by a federal judge who said the law was unconstitutional because it restricted a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Ohio, upheld this decision.

The issue before the nation’s high court is whether the state’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, a Republican who began his term in 2019, can weigh in on this abortion law. He asked the full 6th Circuit to reexamine the three-judge panel’s ruling.

The appeals court rejected his case, saying he was too late with it, so he went to the Supreme Court, which announced March 29 it would consider the case.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Cameron said the 6th Circuit’s refusal to let him defend the law prevented him from doing his job. He also argued that another appeals court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, allowed state attorneys general to intervene in cases in later stages of litigation.

Kentucky’s current governor, Democrat Andy Beshear, had been the state’s attorney general from 2015 to 2019. He stressed he would not challenge court decisions on the state’s abortion law and also pledged during his gubernatorial campaign he would not defend abortion laws he considered unconstitutional.

Kentucky’s abortion law places restrictions on a common second-trimester abortion method known as dilation and evacuation.

In a statement issued the day the court said it would look at his involvement in the case, Cameron said: “I promised Kentuckians that I would defend our laws all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”

He said the state’s abortion law “reflects the conscience of Kentucky by banning the gruesome practice of live dismemberment abortions,” and he added it is important that “Kentuckians have a voice before our nation’s highest court. I was elected to provide that voice, and we look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court.”

Cameron also joined a rally sponsored by the Kentucky Right to Life March 29 at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort to announce the Supreme Court was taking this case.

In the court’s brief order March 29, it turned down the attorney general’s request for the court to send Kentucky’s abortion case back to the lower courts based on the Supreme Court’s decision last year in June Medical Services v. Russo, which struck down a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have the right to admit patients at a nearby hospital.

Cameron argued that the 6th Circuit made its decision just before the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Supreme Court has still not announced if it will review a lower court’s ruling preventing the 2018 Mississippi law from going into effect. It bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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