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Kentucky Lawmakers Advance Measures To Limit Abortions

J. Tyler Franklin

Lawmakers gave initial approval to two anti-abortion bills Wednesday as Republicans assume control of the legislative process and fast-track conservative policies previously stymied by Democrats.

Protesters came out in force to oppose the measures during committee hearings, at times groaning when elected officials argued in favor of the measures and cheering lawmakers who voted against them.

The bills could be signed into law as soon as this Saturday. Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover said the legislature would likely meet over the weekend to give final passage to what Republicans consider high-priority legislation.

One bill would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion on a woman who is at least 20 weeks pregnant. The other would require a doctor to conduct an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and describe the image of the unborn fetus to her before the procedure.

Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard, sponsor of the 20-week ban, said the bill would hinder Planned Parenthood from harvesting organs from mature fetuses — a spurious claim that has been debunked.

Smith’s bill would revoke the license of physicians who conduct abortions during or after the 20th week of pregnancy and make them liable to be sued for damages.

The bill includes exemptions that would allow a woman seeking an abortion to get one after the 19th week of pregnancy if her life is threatened by the pregnancy. It does not include exemptions for victims of rape or incest.

Smith said even in cases of rape and incest, abortions shouldn’t be allowed after the 19th week.

“To me that does not make it OK,” he said.

Lexington resident Heather Hyden, who is 14 weeks pregnant, spoke against the bill. She said if the proposal becomes law, she soon wouldn’t be able to terminate her pregnancy, which she recently found out has complications.

“I’d basically be forced to carry a dead fetus inside of me for the next four months,” Hyden said.

Smith’s bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect once the governor signs it into law.

The legislation would also establish a trust fund for the state to defend the bill if it becomes law and is challenged in court. Sen. Perry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville, said that amounts to an admission that the 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, disagreed.

“I think it acknowledges that the pro-abortion lobby is going to fight it no matter what it says,” he said.

Several states have enacted similar policies, most recently Ohio. Some have speculated that a lawsuit over the legislation could upend the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision if it were appealed to the high court with a conservative majority.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that women have the right to an abortion up until fetal viability, though the exact age at which a fetus becomes viable is unclear.

Ultrasound Bill

The House Judiciary Committee also approved a bill that would require a doctor to conduct an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and describe the unborn fetus to her.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, a Republican from Florence and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation would help women make more educated decisions about getting an abortion.

“If we really respect the autonomy of any patient, especially women, is that we allow that consent to be informed. It’s not merely signing a permit for a procedure to take place, but it’s signing that you’ve had full information,” Wuchner said.

Similar legislation easily passed the state Senate in recent years but was never taken up by the state House, which was headed up by Democrats until this legislative session.

Rep. Darryl Owens, a Democrat from Louisville, voted against the bill saying that women seeking an abortion already educate themselves about the procedure.

“I’m concerned because it appears to be a school of thought that women don’t have enough sense to make decisions about their bodies,” he said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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