The Chatter: Judge hears arguments on motion to temporarily halt pre-abortion ultrasound law, Medicaid waiver approval expected soon

03/24/2017 03:00 PM

A federal judge will soon rule on the ACLU of Kentucky’s motion to temporarily suspend the state’s new pre-abortion ultrasound law after hearing arguments from both sides on Thursday.

The ACLU of Kentucky and EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville sued after House Bill 2 became law in the opening week of this year’s 30-day legislative session. They say the new law violates the First Amendment by compelling physicians to perform and report the results of ultrasounds on women seeking abortions.

But Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, argued in U.S. District Judge David Hale’s Louisville courtroom Thursday that the state has an obligation to protect the lives of mothers and their fetuses, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Lawyers from Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office, which is representing Beshear and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, did not offer arguments during the hearing. Hale said he would not take up motions to dismiss Beshear and the KBML from the lawsuit, according to a report by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Bevin has been highly critical of Beshear’s involvement in the case, saying the attorney general has done little to defend HB 2. Pitt is representing the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

From the AP report:

ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said the law seeks to force information on women while they’re on an examination table, half naked, and undergoing a mandated ultrasound.

The ACLU called Dr. Tanya Franklin, who provides abortions in Louisville, as one of three witnesses. She said some patients try to cover their eyes when she attempts to describe their fetus and show the images.

“Some of them are crying, some of them are sobbing, some of them are defeated and desperate,” she said.

Pitt said any concern for the unborn was “missing in action” from the ACLU’s arguments and their witnesses.

He said there was “nothing ideological” in the law’s requirements, saying it seeks to ensure women are fully informed before undergoing an abortion. The lack of complete information risks inflicting emotional harm on women long after they have abortions, he said. Kentucky law already requires counseling 24 hours in advance of an abortion.

Hale said he would rule on the ACLU’s motion for a temporary restraining order after taking additional written arguments.

State expects Medicaid waiver approval soon

Kentucky Medicaid Commissioner Stephen Miller says he expects the federal government will approve the state’s proposed changes to its Medicaid program by June with an expected Jan. 1 rollout, WFLP reports.

Miller addressed the Advisory Council for Medical Assistance Thursday in Frankfort as the U.S. House of Representatives neared a vote, delayed until Friday, on the first phase of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The American Health Care Act would transition Medicaid to a block-grant system, a topic Miller discussed Thursday.

“Then the issue becomes what will be the level of the funding,” he said, according to the report. “Until we know that, you just don’t know.”

Kentucky HEALTH would, among other things, require monthly premiums and set community engagement hours for activities like work and volunteering. Seema Verma, head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, helped the Bevin administration craft its proposed Medicaid waiver.

Beshear looks to intervene in student newspaper lawsuits

Beshear’s office is hoping to intervene in a pair of lawsuits filed by universities against student newspapers looking for reports on sexual misconduct investigations.

Attorneys in Beshear’s office filed a motion Thursday to intervene in Western Kentucky University’s lawsuit against the College Heights Herald and the University of Kentucky’s Kentucky Kernel after it denied the student publications’ request for the investigative materials.

Lawyers in the office filed a similar motion on Wednesday in a suit between Kentucky State University and the Kentucky Kernel.

Those cases are similar to one between the Kernel and the University of Kentucky. In those instances, Beshear’s office ruled against the universities in open records decisions because they did not allow him to inspect the disputed investigation records.

“Without a confidential review by my office, institutions can hide serious issues related to sexual assault, ignore victims and tell parents and families that a given campus may be safer than it is,” Beshear said in a statement.

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