A diverse group of state representatives, lawyers, Planned Parenthood affiliates, and pro-life advocates on opposite sides of the abortion debate crossed the aisle to speak on the issue Monday evening. The discussion was broadcast live on KET.
The Humanity in Healthcare Act, an in-progress piece of legislation that has not yet been filed ahead of the 2022 General Assembly, was the primary topic of consideration on the one-hour Kentucky Tonight program. The bill combines bicameral measures from the 2021 legislative session.
Opponents of the bill said the proposed provisions would create impediments and hurdles to abortion care, furthering the shame and stigma surrounding pregnancy termination.
"All of the laws that we have seen come out from the Kentucky General Assembly the last few years have had an effect of making abortion more difficult for people to access," said Heather Gatnarek, a staff attorney for ACLU Kentucky.
Rep. Attica Scott, D-Jefferson, found fault with “complete strangers … saying that they want to have power, domination and control over someone’s body.” She also said that “real issues” like maternal and infant health, poverty, and both medical and student loan debt should be addressed by the General Assembly instead.
Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, said that the maternal mortality issue is an area where pro-life and pro-choice advocates “can all come together.”
“Women’s health is so often thrown into this conversation about abortion, and that’s the only part of the conversation,” said Glenn. “Abortion really clouds that conversation because it takes medicine from a healing profession to a killing profession.”
“I think there’s many areas of women’s healthcare that we would agree on,” added former Rep. Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life. “While we may disagree with termination of a pregnancy, we still want it to be safe, making sure health protocols are followed.”
The Humanity in Healthcare Act will address abortion on minors and judicial bypass, disposal of fetal remains, a certification program for distributors of chemical abortion drugs, public funding of pregnancy termination and medical conscience for healthcare professionals.
When the issue of chemical abortion was raised, Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, noted the procedure is “proven to be four times more dangerous for the mother than the surgical abortion.”
Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky state director of Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky, countered that chemical abortions are 99% effective, with the FDA loosening restrictions surrounding in-person dispensation of the two-drug regimen during the pandemic.
Proponents of the bill said the concern is mail-order abortions where patients seeking abortions are not required to visit their physicians for a consultation about the procedure. The risk of complications, including an incomplete abortion, increase as the pregnancy progresses.
Wuchner said the provisions are good healthcare.
“We’re trying to assure that the standards that were first there, meaning it was given to you by your medical provider, would still be in place,” she said. “It’s tailoring the care and makes sure that women are cared for by a medical provider versus obtaining these very powerful medications through the mail from who knows where.”
As the discussion pivoted to abortion pill reversal provisions within the bill—which would require the attending physician to advise women seeking abortions about the reversal option—there was disagreement over the efficacy and safety of the procedure.
Wieder said a medical study on abortion pill reversal was stopped because it was “dangerous.”
“It wasn’t because of the abortion pill reversal and the progesterone, it was because of the high complication rate of the chemical abortion itself,” countered Glenn.
Glenn explained that the first part of the chemical abortion process, the drug mifepristone, blocks progesterone, cutting off essential nutrients and causing fetal demise.
“If the woman changes her mind — and it has to be done as quickly as possible— what an obstetrician will do is flood her system with progesterone,” Glenn said. “This is a treatment that’s been used for cancer patients. It’s not something that is new.”
Wuchner, who is a registered nurse, added that in her time working with patients experiencing infertility, progesterone was used to maintain pregnancy and prevent miscarriage.
The fetal remains provisions would ensure that the remains of aborted children “are treated with dignity and honor, no matter how (far) along they are in that pregnancy,” said Wuchner.
Instead of being disposed of alongside other medical waste, fetal remains would be cremated individually or buried—and parents would be informed of their option to either take responsibility or relinquish responsibility for their child’s remains.
With sharp divides surfacing between the pro-life and pro-choice perspective of the omnibus bill and the issue of abortion, Wuchner said the “opposing differences” are due to disagreement over where life begins.
“I think the elephant in the room is that we do see differently when life begins, and I think that is something that all people have their own personal feelings around this issue, be it faith-based, be it spiritual, be it how they were brought up,” added Wieder.
“We’re talking about a fetus,” Scott said. “We’re not talking about an unborn baby.”
Tate asked why a stopped heartbeat indicates death, but a detectable heartbeat isn’t recognized as life.
“We like to camouflage by using these fancy terms that confuse people. Fetus is Latin for human baby,” Tate said.
The discussion will be re-run on KET and KETKY throughout the day Monday-Wednesday until Dec. 8. Visit www.ket.org to view a detailed airing schedule and access a recording of the program.
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