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Kentucky Heartbeat Abortion Ban Moves Closer To Becoming Law

Alix Mattingly

A bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected has almost passed out of the Kentucky legislature.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, earlier than some people first realize they are pregnant and far earlier than abortion protections created by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Sen. Matt Castlen, a Republican from Owensboro and sponsor of the measure, invited a pregnant constituent to the Capitol so he could play the sound of the fetal heartbeat within her.

“It’s undeniable. When there’s a heartbeat, there’s life,” Castlen said. “And that life is unique inside a mother’s womb because our fingerprints alone show that each and every one of us have our own unique identity.”

Senate Bill 9 is one of at least four anti-abortion bills moving through the Kentucky legislature.

The proposal would make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion if there’s a fetal heartbeat unless the patient has a medical emergency that would otherwise lead to death.

It provides no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, incest or domestic violence.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said that the bill would immediately be challenged by her organization if it passes into law.

She also said that the measure is wrong.

“We believe that decisions about pregnancy are personal and that they can often be complicated. The best person to make a decision about a pregnancy is the person themselves,” Miller said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision bans states from restricting abortions before the fetus is viable — the point at which it could survive outside of the womb at around the 24th week of pregnancy.

Republican leaders of the legislature have said that they hope a legal challenge to the bill could eventually be appealed to the Supreme Court and play a role in overturning “Roe” under a more conservative version of the court.

Kentucky is one of many states where heartbeat abortion laws have been proposed, though all of the measures have either failed to pass or been struck down by federal courts.

The measure easily passed out of the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Tuesday with a vote of 12-3. It has already passed out of the Senate and is now eligible for a vote in the House.

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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