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Supreme Court takes up dispute over Kentucky abortion law

The law, which has been blocked by the courts, would ban a surgical procedure commonly used after the 15th week of pregnancy.
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The Supreme Court agreed Monday to referee a legal fight over who has the right to defend a restrictive Kentucky abortion law in court.

Passed in 2018, the law — which has been blocked by the courts — would ban a surgical procedure commonly used after the 15th week of pregnancy. Immediately after it was signed by then-Gov. Matt Bevin, Republican, a Louisville women's surgical center challenged it in court.

A federal judge found the law unconstitutional, concluding that it restricted a woman's constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus is considered viable. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Ohio, agreed.

The state health official who defended the law declined to take further action, but the newly elected attorney general, Daniel Cameron, a Republican, asked the full 6th Circuit to take another look at the law. The appeals court turned him down, saying he came to the process too late.

Cameron urged the Supreme Court to take the case, saying the appeals court's refusal to let him defend the law blocked him from doing what state law requires. He said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in California, allowed state attorneys general to intervene during the later stages of litigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the surgical center, urged the justices to stay out of the dispute. It said the 6th Circuit's ruling was "merely the routine application of the rules." The law at issue "would effectively prohibit abortion in Kentucky after the first weeks of the second trimester," the group said.

ACLU lawyer Andrew Beck said Cameron "has shown that he will stop at nothing to prevent people from making their own decisions about a pregnancy. Major medical associations have condemned harmful restrictions like the one at issue here, and every court to consider a law like this has blocked it.”

The only issue before the Supreme Court is whether the Republican attorney general can try to reinstate the law. The court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in the fall.