Kentucky House Advances Anti-Abortion Constitutional Amendment

Mar 11, 2020

Credit Ryland Barton

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill that would add language to the state constitution saying that it guarantees no right for women to get abortions.

House Bill 67 is one of several anti-abortion bills advancing during Kentucky’s legislative session this year. Since it would alter the state’s constitution, the measure would have to be approved by a majority of Kentucky voters during a referendum on Election Day this year.

Rep. Joe Fischer, a Republican from Fort Thomas and sponsor of the bill, said that it would guarantee that judges in Kentucky’s state courts don’t rule in a way that guarantees abortion rights.

“Let’s not allow our state courts to invent a new right to an abortion and to invalidate our state laws protecting unborn children that have already been upheld in federal court,” Fischer said during a debate on the House Floor.

The measure passed the Kentucky House of Representatives with a vote of 71-21. All who voted against the bill were Democrats, though some Democrats voted in favor of it, as well. It will now be considered by the state Senate.

The bill would add the following language to the Kentucky Constitution:

 “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

Kentucky lawmakers have passed several anti-abortion bills since Republicans assumed control of the state House and Senate in 2017—the first time the party had total control of the legislature in state history.

Rep. Lisa Wilner, a Democrat from Louisville, criticized supporters of the bill who called it “pro-life.”

“How many of you, knowing that a fetus is not viable, cannot survive if born, would force a woman to carry that pregnancy all the way to term? There’s nothing pro-life about that.” Wilner said.

Rep. Terri Branham Clark, a Democrat from Catlettsburg, voted in favor of the bill but said she wanted it to allow the procedure in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Branham Clark said her daughter is currently pregnant.

“How can I stand here and vote for something that could endanger her life as a pregnant woman?” Branham Clark said.

Supporters of the bill say that legislators would still be able to pass laws that create exceptions in which abortions would be allowed in cases of rape, incest or safety. Kentucky lawmakers have repeatedly declined to include such exceptions in recent anti-abortion measures.

Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, a Republican from Greenville spoke in favor of the bill, telling a story about a friend who decided against getting an abortion when her fetus wasn’t going to be viable.

“I actually got to be at the hospital that day when she was induced. She got to hold that baby, his name was Andrew. I went to the graveside burial. I was so proud of her and the father for choosing life and going through that,” Gibbons Prunty said.

“They taught me courage in a bad situation.”

Many of Kentucky’s new abortion laws have been challenged in federal court and temporarily blocked while lawsuits unfold. Temporarily blocked abortion laws include a ban on dilation and evacuation—a common first trimester abortion procedure—a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected and a ban on abortions based on race, sex or perceived disability.

Kentucky’s ultrasound abortion requirement was upheld by an appeals court after a legal challenge. Others haven’t been challenged, like a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

This story has been corrected. It previously stated that Democratic Rep. Terri Branham Clark abstained from voting on the bill. She voted in favor of it.