Kentucky judge throws out Jewish mothers’ lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion ban

In Kentucky, abortions are banned in almost all circumstances except in cases when a pregnant women’s life is in imminent danger of death or permanent injury.

Timothy D. Easley/AP

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Timothy D. Easley/AP

A Kentucky judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by three Jewish mothers who argued that the state’s near-total abortion ban violated the religious freedoms of those who believe life begins at birth, not conception.

On Friday evening, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Brian Edwards said the group of women lacked standing to bring the case and sided with the state’s attorney general, who defended the state’s abortion laws.

In Kentucky, abortions are banned in almost all circumstances except in cases when a pregnant woman’s life is in imminent danger of death or permanent injury.

The plaintiffs — Lisa Sobel, Jessica Kalb and Sarah Baron — filed a suit in 2022 on the grounds that the state’s ban not only endangered their health but was at odds with their Jewish faith.

The suit largely centered around in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and whether it would be illegal for women in Kentucky to discard embryos created by IVF that were not yet implanted.

Sobel and Kalb are both mothers who conceived using IVF. Kalb had nine embryos in storage, but did not plan to have nine more children. Meanwhile, Baron, who was 37 at the time of the lawsuit filing, said the state’s ban discouraged her from attempting to have more children and risk pregnancy complications.

Kentucky’s attorney general’s office argued that it was clear IVF treatments and the destruction of embryos in private clinics were permissible under state law. But state lawmakers have yet to pass any explicit protections.

Judge Edwards said in the decision that the three women’s “alleged injuries … are hypothetical as none are currently pregnant or undergoing IVF at the present time.”

On Saturday, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the ruling continued to put them and IVF patients at risk.

“Our nation is waiting for a judiciary brave enough to do what the law requires. Our clients demand that we continue the fight and we look forward to review by higher courts,” Aaron Kemper and Ben Potash wrote in a statement.

Meanwhile, the state’s attorney general, Russell Coleman, applauded the ruling, commending the court for upholding Kentucky’s laws.

“Most importantly, the Court eliminates any notion that access to IVF services in our Commonwealth is at risk. Today’s opinion is a welcome reassurance to the many Kentuckians seeking to become parents,” Coleman wrote in a statement.

Since the state’s near-total abortion ban went into effect, many women in Kentucky have been forced to travel out-of-state to end nonviable pregnancies.

Speaking in May, Sobel said women in Kentucky should not have to leave the state in order to receive medical care aligned with their religious beliefs.

“I shouldn’t have to leave in order to grow my family. I shouldn’t have to leave because the legislators don’t want to recognize that my faith matters too,” Sobel told NPR’s member station LPM.

Kentucky is not the only state where abortion bans are being challenged on religious arguments. Similar lawsuits are taking place in Indiana, Missouri and Florida.

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