Judges in Florida and Kentucky have moved to block those states from enforcing bans or restrictions on abortion after the US Supreme Court last week overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that had established a nationwide right to the procedure.
In Tallahassee, Florida, Circuit Court Judge John Cooper said he would grant a petition from abortion rights groups to temporarily put on hold a state law that would bar abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing a ban passed in 2019 and triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Florida and Kentucky decisions came amid a flurry of litigation by abortion rights groups seeking to preserve people’s ability to terminate pregnancies, after the historic ruling by the conservative-majority Supreme Court.
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That ruling gave states the authority to deny, limit or allow abortions. On Thursday, the Supreme Court threw out lower federal court rulings that had invalidated abortion limits in Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana based on Roe.
Bans and restrictions are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states, including 13 like Kentucky with so-called “trigger” laws designed to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.
State courts in Texas, Louisiana and Utah have also temporarily blocked bans in those states since last week, and abortion providers are seeking similar relief in states including Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi and West Virginia.
The injunctions have bought clinics time to continue providing services.
“Delay is still saving lives,” said Seema Mohapatra, a professor of health law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The longer safe and accessible abortion is available in those states, the more pregnant people seeking abortion care will be helped.”
In the long term, however, abortion rights supporters face tough odds. The highest courts in many of those states are dominated by conservative or Republican justices who may be more sympathetic to restrictions on abortion access.
Only about a fifth of state Supreme Courts have recognised a right to abortion independent of Roe v. Wade. The Iowa Supreme Court earlier this month reversed itself by finding the state’s constitution does not include a “fundamental right” to abortion.
In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry sided with two abortion clinics, including a Planned Parenthood affiliate. The clinics had challenged a trigger ban and another law that bars abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before some people know they are pregnant.
Abortion services had halted in Kentucky since Friday, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to enact new bans. Kentucky’s ban permits abortion only to protect people from death or serious injury.
“We’re glad the court recognised the devastation happening in Kentucky and decided to block the commonwealth’s cruel abortion bans,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.
The decision is temporary, though, and a further hearing is scheduled on Wednesday on the clinics’ request for an injunction to block enforcement of the laws.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, promptly asked an appeals court to put Perry’s order on hold, saying the judge had no basis under Kentucky’s constitution to allow clinics to resume performing abortions.