2 anti-abortion bills are already moving through the Republican-led General Assembly, and several others await action

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FRANKFORT, January 10 -- Rep. Tim Moore (R-Elizabethtown) outlines this session’s legislative initiatives for the newly formed bipartisan, bicameral Pro-Life Caucus during a press conference in the rotunda. (photo by LRC Public Information)
FRANKFORT, January 10 -- Rep. Tim Moore (R-Elizabethtown) outlines this session’s legislative initiatives for the newly formed bipartisan, bicameral Pro-Life Caucus during a press conference in the rotunda. (photo by LRC Public Information)

In the first week of the 2019 legislative session, opponents of abortion began moving bills through the General Assembly.

The Senate passed a bill to require mandatory reporting of chemical abortions, and was poised to pass one that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat has been detected, usually about six weeks into pregnancy. The measure has received two of its required three readings and has been assigned to a committee.

The bills are part of a package of introduced Thursday by the legislature’s Pro-life Caucus. Most are expected to face court challenges if they become law, because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decisions. House Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Fisher, R-Fort Thomas, would ban all abortions in Kentucky if the high court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

A federal court struck down two laws passed last year to restrict abortion, and a challenge to a third one is pending, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Few abortion bills passed until Republicans took control of the House in the 2016 elections.

Fetal heartbeat bills

This year’s Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, “is simply a bill that says if you have detection of a heartbeat, then that child is a living human being, and you can no longer murder that child in his mother’s womb,” Castlen said at a Capitol news conference Jan. 10.

Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, (Laurel County) has filed a similar measure, HB 100,  Goforth is running against Gov. Matt Bevin for the Republican nomination for governor.

Critics of the heartbeat bill say that women don’t know they are pregnant until after six weeks of pregnancy, and ultrasounds that might reveal a problem in the pregnancy typically aren’t done until 18 to 20 weeks of gestation, Cheves reports.

“Essentially what you’re putting in place is a six-week ban, which from our doctors’ perspective is a complete ban on abortion,” Kate Miller, advocacy director for the Kentucky ACLU, which has sued to block several past abortion laws, told Cheves. “With a six-week ban, we know nothing about the health of the pregnancy.”

Under the bill, doctors convicted of performing an abortion without first checking for a fetal heartbeat would be guilty of a Class D felony and face one to five years in prison, any abortion done because of “medical emergency” after a fetal heartbeat is detected must be documented.

Reporting of abortion drugs

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, would require doctors to report all prescription drugs written for the purpose of abortions, such as RU-486, to the state vital statistics office, which would be required to publish online an easily accessible annual report to show how many such prescriptions are written. The Senate passed it Jan. 11 on a 30-6 vote.

“I believe it is important to accurately report the abortions that happen in our state just as we accurately report other deaths, births and all the other vital statistics,” Mills said. Describing himself as a “protector of life,” he later added, “When you are taking a medicine that is terminating a life, I think that is something that needs to be reporting.”

An opponent of the measure, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, said “This bill is nothing more than another attempt to overturn Roe V. Wade, which 72 percent of the population doesn’t want.”

Abortions based on fetal characteristics

One other abortion bill, HB 5, would ban abortion in Kentucky for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy “because of an unborn child’s sex, race, color, national origin or disability, except in the case of a medical emergency.” Violation would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. A similar bill was filed last year, but did not make it out of committee. This one is sponsored by Rep. Melinda Prunty, R-Greenville.

Court challenges to KY abortion laws

Deborah Yetter of the Courier Journal reports in some detail about the two state abortion laws that were recently struck down by federal judges: an old one that required abortion clinics to have signed agreements with a hospital and ambulance service, and a recent one to require providers to perform an ultrasound, describe it and show it to the patient prior to an abortion.

A third case involves a 2018 law that would ban the most common type of abortion, known as “dilation and evacuation” at roughly 11 weeks of pregnancy or after. This case was heard in the U.S. District Court in Louisville last year and awaits a decision from the judge.

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Cross-posted from Kentucky Health News. Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.