Supreme Court affirms AG Cameron’s right to defend abortion ban

The Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron can continue the defense of a pro-life state law on Thursday.

“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,” Attorney General Cameron said in a statement Thursday. “Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.”

House Bill 454, which would ban live dismemberment abortions and prevent fetuses from experiencing pain during the procedure, passed in the General Assembly with bipartisan support in 2018, but was immediately challenged in court. A lengthy legal battle ended with the Supreme Court’s intervention last year.

While the law in question addresses abortion rights in the state, the case brought before the high court hinged on the ability of the chief legal officer of Kentucky to defend laws passed by the General Assembly. The 8-1 ruling affirms the right of Cameron’s office to return to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and defend House Bill 454.

Cameron called Thursday’s ruling a “victory for the rule of law.”

“The court found that our office is the fail safe for defending the Commonwealth’s laws when they come under attack,” Cameron said. “As the court noted, we had a strong interest in stepping in to defend this important law.”

Cameron’s office filed a motion to reconsider at the Sixth Circuit Court simultaneously with their request for the Supreme Court’s intervention, which the circuit court put on hold pending the high court’s decision. Now his office is navigating whether resubmission of their motion is necessary.

Solicitor General Matt Kuhn, who argued the case before the Supreme Court in October, said the case will be back before the Sixth Circuit Court in 25 days.

“We cannot be sure exactly what the road ahead will look like, but you can count on us to continue to vigorously advocate for this law and for life,” Cameron said at a press conference on Thursday.

While the high court ruled only on whether Cameron qualifies legally to defend the law and not on the abortion ban’s constitutionality, Baptist leaders at the national and state level still applauded the decision.

“I find myself thankful at any point when an elected official seeks to protect the vulnerable, and that is what Attorney General Cameron is wanting to do here,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This procedure at issue here is an especially ghastly one and, of course, the predatory abortion industry is challenging any law that might end it.

Dr. Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, applauded the ruling.

“Kentucky Baptists are thankful for Attorney General Daniel Cameron and his convictional protection of the unborn,” Gray said. “We rejoice over this ruling from the Supreme Court, pray for the Attorney General as he takes this case back to the Court of Appeals, and anticipate the day when legalized abortion will be part of our past.”

Richard Nelson, executive director of Commonwealth Policy Center, joined in praise of Cameron and the decision.

“We applaud Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s diligence to pursue this case all the way to the US Supreme Court,” Nelson said. “Today’s 8-1 ruling upholds the sovereignty of Kentucky to defend its own laws in court.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the parties in the lawsuit against the ban, said on Twitter it would “continue the fight to prevent this law from going into effect.”

Abortion providers typically use in the second trimester of a pregnancy what pro-life advocates refer to as the live dismemberment method – in which an unborn child is torn apart piece by piece. The Kentucky ban on the procedure is considered a humane effort to reduce the pain an aborted child would experience.

In writing for the high court’s majority, Associate Justice Samuel Alito cited a previous opinion by the justices in saying each state “clearly has a legitimate interest in the continued enforceability of its own statutes.” Alito wrote, “This means that a State’s opportunity to defend its laws in federal court should not be lightly cut off.”

Such respect for a state’s sovereignty “must also take into account the authority of a State to structure its executive branch in a way that empowers multiple officials to defend its sovereign interests in federal court,” he wrote, again referencing a past decision by the high court. 

Eric Friedlander, the secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, shared with Cameron, in his role as attorney general, the authority to defend the constitutionality of the Human Rights of Unborn Children Act, Alito wrote. “The Sixth Circuit panel failed to account for the strength of the Kentucky attorney general’s interest in taking up the defense of [the law] when the secretary for Health and Family Services elected to acquiesce.”

Read the high court’s decision in Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center here.

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