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Kentucky Senate Approves Forced In-Person Counseling for Abortion Patients

Teddy Wilson

SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville), would redefine an "individual, private setting" to mean a “face-to-face meeting with the patient and both parties are physically located in the same room.”

Kentucky’s Republican-dominated state senate passed a bill Tuesday that would force in-person counseling on patients seeking abortion care at least 24 hours before an abortion can be performed.

Patients in Kentucky could previously satisfy the state’s legal requirement with a phone call to their physician at least 24 hours prior to having an abortion procedure. They now have to make a separate trip to the physician’s office for in-person counseling.

The bill is among the top legislative priorities for Kentucky Republicans.

SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville), would redefine an “individual, private setting” in the context of where counseling must take place to mean a “face-to-face meeting with the patient and both parties are physically located in the same room.”

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The bill was passed 32-5 without debate by the GOP-controlled state senate. Several Democrats crossed party lines to vote in favor of the bill.

“You can see, have better understanding, watch body language,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said, reported the Associated Press. “When you have that type of personal interaction, I think (it brings) more to light what the implications of the decision are.”

Adams, who sponsored identical legislation in 2014 and 2015, claims that the bill would not create an added burden or cost for those seeking abortion care because “a woman does not need to travel outside of her own community” to receive the information, reported the Associated Press.

The bill would allow a person seeking an abortion to satisfy the legal requirement by meeting with a “physician or a licensed nurse, physician assistant, or social worker to whom the responsibility has been delegated by the physician.”

“A recorded message discussing the medical procedure is simply not acceptable,” Adams said, reported Louisville’s Courier-Journal.

There are two clinics in the state, located in Lexington and Louisville, that provide abortion services.

Derek Selznick, Reproductive Freedom Project director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement that the GOP’s anti-choice bill creates obstacles for women seeking abortion care and disproportionately affects women living in rural areas of the state.

“SB4 isn’t ‘informed consent,’ it is a forced delay to access safe and legal abortions, creating needless obstacles for women, especially burdening those that live outside of Louisville and Lexington where the commonwealth’s two clinics are located,” Selznick said. “Kentucky women have been permitted to use telemedicine for these procedures since March 2001. No reason or evidence has been presented to show these regulations are inadequate or need to be changed.”

The legislation has moved to the house, where Democrats hold a 50-46 majority. Similar legislation was passed by the state senate in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and each time the bill died in committee. Anti-choice legislation passed by the Republican-controlled state senate has often been blocked by the Democratic-majority house.

However, this year house Democrats might not have the political muscle to block anti-choice measures with a small majority and elections looming.

A procedural house vote Wednesday was passed by lawmakers 72-11. The bill must now be assigned to a committee.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) told the Courier-Journal he didn’t know whether the bill would pass. Stumbo said lawmakers appear to be leaning in support of the bill, reasoning that the intent of the original law was to require a face-to-face consultation.

“That seems to be getting some traction, at least in the Democratic caucus,” Stumbo said.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) said the state’s GOP is determined to push through the forced in-person counseling measure. “We want an expedited vote on this bill, to get it done,” Hoover said, reported the Associated Press. “And whatever options we have to force a vote as soon as we can, that’s what we’ll consider.”

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