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Supreme Court Rules KY Attorney General Can Defend State's Law Against Dismemberment Abortions

The Supreme Court is seen at dusk in Washington, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Kentucky's Republican attorney general may defend a state abortion law that had been struck down by lower courts even though the state's current Democrat governor chose not to defend it. 

The underlying issue in the case is a blocked state law that pro-abortion advocates say would have banned a particular abortion method in the second trimester of pregnancy.

But instead, the justices decided on a more technical issue of whether Attorney General Daniel Cameron can intervene in the case after rulings from a trial court and appellate panel. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear had made the decision to drop the case.

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With an overwhelming 8-1 vote, the high court concluded that Cameron can step in and do his job. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority and only the far-left Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented in opinions that focused on procedural questions, not the right to abortion.

The case is separate from the court's consideration of Mississippi's case that could overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey - the two cases that created a so-called right to abortion nationwide - and allow states to set their own rules. 

Kentucky is among a dozen states with laws that would effectively ban abortions in the event Roe and Casey are overruled later this summer. 

The Kentucky law in question was adopted in 2018 when Republican Matt Bevin was governor. Following a lawsuit by abortion providers, a trial court permanently blocked the law, finding that the law would have made it impossible to end the lives of unborn persons by using the abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in June 2020.

Five days later, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down an unrelated Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics. But Cameron, who became attorney general in 2019, said the reasoning used by the high court called into question the ruling against the Kentucky law.

The appeals court, however, rejected his efforts to intervene. He then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to tell the appeals court to let him do his job as Kentucky's attorney general.

Cameron said Thursday he plans to return to the appeals court to argue that the law should be allowed to take effect. 

"At every turn, we've maintained that Kentucky's law banning live-dismemberment abortions is worth defending and should receive a full defense from the challenge brought by the ACLU and an abortion clinic," the attorney general said in a statement. 

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the abortion clinic.

If Cameron loses at the appeals court, he could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Have you have had an abortion, are contemplating ending your pregnancy, or would like pregnancy-related resources, please click here.

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