SCOTUS Seems Poised to Back Kentucky AG in Unblocking State's Abortion Law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed ready to back Kentucky's Republican attorney general in defending a restriction on abortion rights that had been struck down by lower courts.

A law adopted in 2018, when Republican Matt Bevin was governor, would have effectively banned a standard abortion method in the second trimester of pregnancy. Abortion providers filed a lawsuit against the law, and a trial court permanently blocked it after finding it would have made it impossible to perform a specific procedure.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron is appealing to have the law unblocked by the Supreme Court after a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous ruling that found the restriction to be unconstitutional.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Daniel Cameron
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is attempting to intervene in a legal challenge to an abortion ban in the state. Above, attorney Matt Kuhn (L) speaks as Cameron (R) listens after the oral arguments of the case at the Supreme Court on October 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

But what is before the justices is a highly technical examination of whether Cameron can intervene in the case, after rulings from a trial court and appellate panel, as well as Democratic Governor Andy Beshear's decision to drop the case.

"Why can't he just come in and defend the law?" Justice Stephen Breyer asked, seemingly reflecting the consensus view on the bench. The word "abortion" was only mentioned infrequently in the course of 70 minutes of arguments.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that once Beshear's administration determined it would not file any additional appeals, "maybe Kentucky ought to be there in some form."

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous 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, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

If Cameron is allowed to take part, he could ask the full appeals court to reconsider the panel decision and allow the law to take effect. If he loses there, Cameron could appeal to the Supreme Court.

The case is separate from the court's consideration of Mississippi's call to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two cases guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion nationwide, and allow states to set their own rules. Kentucky is among a dozen states with a law that would effectively ban abortions in the event Roe and Casey are jettisoned.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh was in the courtroom Tuesday for the first time in the new term. Kavanaugh took part in arguments remotely last week after a positive test for COVID-19. The court said he had shown no symptoms. All the justices are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The Supreme Court could allow Kentucky's attorney general to continue defending an abortion ban in the state. The above photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on September 3, 2021. J. Scott Applewhite, File/AP Photo