Pregnant woman in Kentucky sues for the right to get an abortion

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FILE - Abortion-rights supporters chant their objections at the Kentucky Capitol, April 13, 2022, in Frankfort, Ky. A pregnant woman in Kentucky filed a lawsuit Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, challenging the state's sweeping abortion ban, saying the right to terminate a pregnancy is crucial for people to "control their lives. The suit, filed in state court in Louisville, says Kentucky's near-total prohibition against abortion violates the plaintiff's rights to privacy and self-determination under the state constitution. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A pregnant woman in Kentucky filed a lawsuit Friday demanding the right to an abortion, the second legal challenge in days to sweeping abortion bans that have taken hold in more than a dozen U.S. states since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.

The suit, filed in state court in Louisville, says Kentucky's near-total prohibition of abortion violates the plaintiff's rights to privacy and self-determination under the state constitution.

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The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, is about eight weeks pregnant and she wants to have an abortion in Kentucky but cannot legally do so because of the state's ban, the suit said. She is seeking class-action status to include other Kentuckians who are or will become pregnant and want to have an abortion.

“I am a proud Kentuckian and I love the life my family and I have here, but I’m angry that now that I’m pregnant and do not want to be,” the plaintiff said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups backing her challenge. “The government is interfering in my private matters and blocking me from having an abortion. This is my decision, not the government or any other person’s."

Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office said it was reviewing the suit but offered no other comments. Cameron's office has defended the state's anti-abortion laws in other court proceedings.

The latest legal challenge was denounced as “meritless” by The Family Foundation, a conservative group staunchly opposed to abortion. Its executive director, David Walls, called it “absolutely absurd” for abortion rights groups to say Kentucky's constitution “somehow secretly contains a hidden right to terminate the life and stop the beating heart of an unborn human being.”

The filing in Kentucky comes a day after a judge in Texas gave a pregnant woman whose fetus has a fatal diagnosis permission to get an abortion. The temporary restraining order issued Thursday stops Texas from enforcing the state’s ban on the woman, who is 20 weeks pregnant, and lasts for 14 days. Her attorneys afterward spoke cautiously about any wider impacts, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton insisted that the order would not insulate any medical practitioners from any civil or criminal liability.

Paxton appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court on Friday, urging justices to act swiftly.

Cox's attorneys have said they will not disclose her plans, citing safety concerns.

Unlike the case in Texas, little is known about the Kentucky plaintiff or her pregnancy. Legal challenges currently taking place across the country have largely highlighted the stories from women who were denied abortions while facing harrowing pregnancy complications.

But in Kentucky, the plaintiff's attorneys insisted they would fiercely protect their client's privacy, stressing that Jane Doe believes “everyone should have the right to make decisions privately and make decisions for their own families,” said Amber Duke, executive director for the ACLU of Kentucky.

Earlier this year, Kentucky's Supreme Court refused to halt the state's near-total abortion ban and another outlawing abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. The justices focused on narrow legal issues but didn’t resolve larger constitutional questions about whether access to abortion should be legal in the Bluegrass State.

The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and other activists say they've been searching for a plaintiff ever since that February ruling. The suit filed Friday marks the launch of their new assault against the state's abortion bans.

“These bans have harmed countless Kentuckians since going into effect last year, and we are relieved to be back in court to try to restore abortion access in Kentucky,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in the news release.

The lawsuit says Kentucky woman are suffering “medical, constitutional and irreparable harm” by being denied the right to obtain an abortion.

“Abortion is a critical component of reproductive healthcare and crucial to the ability of Kentuckians to control their lives,” the suit says.

“Whether to take on the health risks and responsibilities of pregnancy and parenting is a personal and consequential decision that must be left to the individual to determine for herself without governmental interference,” it added.

Kentucky voters last year rejected a ballot measure that would have denied any constitutional protections for abortion, but abortion rights supporters have made no inroads in the Republican-controlled Legislature in chipping away at the state's anti-abortion laws.

The legal challenge revolves around Kentucky’s near-total trigger law ban and a separate six-week ban — both passed by Republican legislative majorities. The trigger law was passed in 2019 and took effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. It bans abortions except when they’re carried out to save the life of the patient or to prevent disabling injury. It does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

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Kruesi reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas contributed to this report.