Protecting Clinic Access in Louisville, KY

Policy Win
Expanding Abortion Access

In May, 2020, the Louisville Metro Council passed a safety zone ordinance, O-179-21, in order to provide safer access to the city’s two abortion clinics – the only two abortion clinics in Kentucky.

For several years, NIRH partnered with the Kentucky Health Justice Network (KHJN) to address the crisis of anti-abortion extremism at the EMW Surgical Center in Louisville. As Kentucky’s only abortion provider for a decade, the EMW clinic has long been the target of anti-abortion protestors, who would clog sidewalks and block the clinic entrance, threatening and harassing patients — and causing assault and violence on several occasions.

In 2017, extremist protestors executed the first clinic blockade in decades at the EMW Surgical Center, leading a federal judge to create a temporary safety zone that was enforced by U.S. Marshals. The frequency and intensity of protests increased for years, with the clinic becoming a target of national anti-abortion groups, some of which were affiliated with militant anti-government organizations.

NIRH teamed up with KHJN and a grassroots coalition that included Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kentucky, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and others. Together we waged a campaign to pass a clinic access ordinance in the Louisville Metro Council, a body new to addressing abortion access. Together we spent three years organizing local businesses and supportive community members, working with Metro Councilmembers to fully embrace clinic protection, and working alongside racial justice advocates to align our goals and values with the racial justice activism in Louisville.

On May 20, 2020, the Clinic Safety Zone passed by a vote of 14-11, establishing a narrow safety zone to keep the public, patients and health care providers safe from escalating threats, harassment, and violence outside of Louisville health care facilities.

“We finally did it! I can’t be happier for our organization, for my staff, and for the reproductive justice movement. The passage of this ordinance is a step in the right direction that this city needed. If we are to truly be a compassionate city, we must first demonstrate the ability to empathize, understand, and respect others – even if we don’t agree.”

Erin Smith, Executive Director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network