Pro Bono Effort Helps Planned Parenthood Prevail in Major Abortion Rights Test in Kentucky


An Orrick trial team obtained an important win on behalf of Planned Parenthood in Kentucky, where a federal district court judge has invalidated a statewide law that would have closed the last abortion clinic operating in Kentucky. The decision sided entirely with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) and the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, who argued that the law was unconstitutional and jeopardized access to safe and legal abortion services in Kentucky.

Planned Parenthood’s case arose after Kentucky state officials invoked an obscure regulation to argue that Planned Parenthood’s licensure application was deficient after previously indicating to Planned Parenthood that its application was in order. Around the same time, Kentucky state officials threatened to revoke EMW’s license on the basis of the same regulation used to deny Planned Parenthood’s application, alleging the clinic’s agreements with a hospital and ambulance service contained technical deficiencies despite having approved the same agreements in 2016. 

Representing PPINK pro bono, an Orrick team led by partners Karen Johnson-McKewan, Lisa Simpson and associate Rob Uriarte collaborated with EMW counsel Don Cox and Brigitte Amiri with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project to challenge the Kentucky regulations as a clear effort to undermine women’s right to abortion in Kentucky. The Kentucky case has attracted national attention as numerous states around the country have tried to erode access to abortion services, and the litigation was considered a key legal test for challenges to those efforts.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers conducted a three-day bench trial in the case in September 2017, with Orrick’s trial team playing a central role. In a 60-page ruling, the judge found Kentucky’s regulations unenforceable, both facially and as applied, concluding they violate due process protections. The judge issued a permanent injunction blocking enforcement of the regulation.

“PPINK praises today’s decisions and looks forward to expanding abortion access soon,” said Christine Gillespie, President and CEO of PPINK. “This is a victory for the many patients we see every day. For them, safe, legal abortion isn’t a matter of ideology or politics. It is necessary health care that allows them to live their fullest lives.”

In addition to Karen, Lisa and Rob, the Orrick trial team included associates Kayvan Ghaffari, Easha Anand and former associate Anjali Dalal.