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Story highlights

Kentucky HB2 required ultrasounds for pregnant women seeking an abortion

The state ordered the last open abortion clinic to close in March but a judge intervened

(CNN) —  

A federal judge struck down a Kentucky anti-abortion law that required women to receive an ultrasound before they can legally have an abortion.

Western District of Kentucky Judge David Hale ruled Wednesday that the bill violates First Amendment rights and “appears to inflict psychological harm on abortion patients.”

“Requiring physicians to force upon their patients the information mandated by HB2 has more potential to harm the psychological well-being of the patient than to further the legitimate interests of the Commonwealth,” Judge Hale said in the ruling.

House Bill 2, enacted in January, required a physician or technician to perform an ultrasound, describe and display the ultrasound images to the mother, and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat to the mother before she could have an abortion. Its text said a pregnant woman may choose to avert her eyes from the images, and request the volume of the heartbeat be turned down or off.

ACLU lawsuit filed

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a federal lawsuit over the ultrasound measure on behalf of Kentucky’s sole licensed outpatient abortion facility, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, three physicians, and their patients.

“HB2 requires physicians to subject their patients to these images, descriptions, and sounds, when the patient is in a particularly vulnerable and exposed position,” the complaint argued.

The bill was one of two anti-abortion measures signed into law in early 2017. It stipulated that physicians who violated the requirements would be subject to fines up to $250,000.

The second measure, Senate Bill 5, prohibits abortions in the state at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That law does not apply in cases where an abortion is required to save the life of the mother or prevent serious risk of bodily harm to the mother. It does not contain exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said the 20-week ban “is not just shameful – it’s dangerous for women.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin supported the anti-abortion laws – which were pushed by the Republican-majority Senate.

“This is truly a new day in Kentucky,” Bevin said in a press release after signing the two bills.

Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, was quoted on the organization’s website saying the legislation “sets a tone for the 2017 session in all states: that the unborn child deserves protection.”

Judge Hale wrote in his decision memorandum, that HB2 “overtly trumpet[s]” the anti-abortion preference of the legislature and is ideological in nature.”

One abortion clinic in the state

One of the plaintiffs in the case, EMW Women’s Surgical Center, had its license revoked in March for what the state cited as a deficiency in its agreements. EMW is the only abortion clinic operating in Kentucky. After its license was revoked, the center filed a lawsuit against the governor’s administration, which resulted in a trial.

The clinic was granted a temporary restraining order so it could remain open until a judge ruled in the case, but after a three-day trial earlier this month, the fate of the clinic still hangs in the balance.

Attorneys agreed to submit final written arguments to US District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky Greg Stivers within 60 days of the trial’s conclusion, and the judge’s verdict will follow in the weeks or months after that. There is no timeline for when Stivers plans to deliver a verdict.

Bevin’s general counsel and defense attorney in the trial, Steve Pitt, said the statute was adopted to “protect the health and safety of women.”