Kentucky’s ‘Illegal Abortion’ Lawsuit Is Bullsh*t

The incoming governor of Kentucky is suing Planned Parenthood for performing ‘illegal abortions’—procedures the organization says were authorized.

02.19.16 5:51 PM ET

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s lawsuit against Planned Parenthood is BS as usual.

The incoming Republican governor announced on Thursday that the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has filed a civil complaint against Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) for allegedly performing 23 abortions without a license in December and January of last year.

“This administration will have no tolerance for the type of brazen disregard that Planned Parenthood has shown for both the safety of women and the rule of law,” Bevin announced in a press release. “We will hold Planned Parenthood accountable for knowingly endangering their patients by providing illegal abortions at a facility that was not properly licensed nor prepared to handle an emergency.”

What did Planned Parenthood actually do, if anything? The complaint itself tells a much less damning story than Bevin suggested yesterday: The previous administration gave PPINK the go-ahead to operate a clinic in Louisville. Then, Bevin came into office and rescinded that permission. Now, he wants to fine PPINK for operating a clinic during a period of time when the state of Kentucky explicitly said that it could operate a clinic.

Last November, according to the complaint, PPINK submitted a license application for a clinic in Louisville. On Dec. 1, in response to a request for information from Planned Parenthood, then-Cabinet Inspector General Maryellen Mynear said that “a facility must be performing services for which it seeks licensure so that the survey [inspection] process may fully evaluate compliance with applicable regulations.”

In other words: Abortions had to be taking place before the state inspection. Mynear confirmed that this was “indeed the process by which OIG [Office of Inspector General] has historically issued licenses.”

Two days after that email exchange, Bevin’s administration alleges, the Louisville clinic began performing abortions.

On Dec. 4, the Planned Parenthood attorney double-checked with Mynear that the Louisville clinic could perform abortion procedures while awaiting inspection.

“Yes, this is a correct statement of longstanding OIG policy,” Mynear wrote back on Dec 7.

Then, Bevin replaced Democratic governor Steve Beshear, Mynear left office, and the new administration’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services found fault with the “transfer agreements” in PPINK’s application.

Kentucky is one of only eight states that requires abortion providers to have a formal transfer arrangement with a nearby hospital in the event of patient emergencies.

The necessity of these laws is hotly contested. Abortion opponents claim that they are medically necessary in the event of abortion complications. But the American Public Health Association (APHA) notes that state-mandated transfer agreements are not “grounded in evidence-based practices, especially considering that no hospital can deny a patient emergency care.”

On Jan. 28, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent a cease-and-desist letter to PPINK, citing issues with the transfer agreements attached to the application. The next day, as the complaint notes, Planned Parenthood promised to submit updated agreements and agreed to stop providing abortions at the Louisville clinic for the time being.

But because the Louisville clinic performed abortions for an alleged 57 days when it was explicitly granted permission by the OIG to do so, Bevin wants to fine the women’s health-care provider either $10,000 per day ($570,000) or $10,000 per alleged abortion ($230,000)—he’s not sure which—and an additional $114,000 for operating without transfer agreements that meet his administration’s standards.

The complaint also alleges that Planned Parenthood sought to “accelerate” the licensure process before the administration changeover, but there is no fine attached to this claim.

In a statement issued Thursday, PPINK said that it “followed longstanding protocol and received necessary authorization from the appropriate authority, the Office of Inspector General, to perform abortions at its facility while awaiting a site survey.”

“All conditions for a survey to occur have been met,” the statement continued. “We ask that the executive branch continue the licensure process rather than continue to make politically-motivated accusations.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told The Daily Beast in a statement that the lawsuit is “baseless” and that the abortions provided were safe and legal.

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“As our correspondence demonstrates, we worked under the careful guidance of the prior administration, and Governor Bevin is simply continuing his politically-motivated campaign to decimate access to health care for Kentuckians,” she said.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services declined to comment further on the lawsuit, but Bevin has denied the suggestion that it is politically motivated.

“Although I am an unapologetically pro-life individual, I recognize and accept that there are some laws on the books that I do not necessarily agree with,” he said in his announcement of the lawsuit. “However, we are a nation of laws, and my job is to ensure that they are followed regardless of my personal opinion.”

In this case, Bevin’s personal opinion seems very much in line with his priorities since taking office. The first bill he signed as governor requires women to consult with a doctor either in-person or through real-time video about the risks and benefits of abortion 24 hours in advance. Previously, that information could be given out over the phone. The real-time video option was only included at the urging of Democratic lawmakers.

The day after that bill was passed, state lawmakers interrupted Senate business to hand-deliver it to Bevin, who eagerly signed it as soon as they gave it to him rather than waiting for a ceremony at an anti-abortion rally.

“This is an extraordinary day,” the governor said.

Also in early February, the Kentucky Senate approved legislation that would bar state and local funding for Planned Parenthood and sent it to the House for approval.

Another bill requiring women to listen to a doctor’s description of an ultrasound in order to receive an abortion is making its way through the Senate now. Twenty-five states have ultrasound laws but only three require the doctor to verbally describe the image.

Bevin has been accusing PPINK of performing “illegal abortions” for weeks now, while Planned Parenthood has maintained that the Louisville clinic was following the protocol outlined over e-mail by the OIG.

Bevin’s lawsuit is headed to the Jefferson Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, PPINK is still awaiting review of its license application.