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Kentucky’s GOP-Held Senate Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood

Jenn Stanley

The move is part of Republican lawmakers' conservative agenda designed to "send a message to voters."

Kentucky’s Republican-dominated state senate on Tuesday approved a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, though the Democratic-majority house could be a roadblock for the measure.

SB 7, also called the Defunding Planned Parenthood Legislation, is part of a conservative agenda that the state’s GOP lawmakers have designed to “send a message to voters,” according to Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown). SB 7 will now go to the state house for consideration, where House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) told Louisville public radio station WFPL he wasn’t sure if it would gain support. Democrats are trying to hold on to their 50-46 majority in the house as they face four special elections in March.

If the bill becomes law, it would create a three-tiered system for funding, placing the health-care organization on the last tier to receive whatever, if any, available funding remains. The first funding priority would be public health departments, and the second would be non-public clinics that provide comprehensive primary and preventive health services.

Kentucky gets about $5.6 million in federal Title X family planning funds, and about $331,000 of that went to Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, according to WFPL. Planned Parenthood only recently began offering abortion services in Kentucky at its Louisville clinic. While many clinics receive Title X funding, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky announced in December that the Louisville clinic would not be accepting those funds, meaning that any funding cuts would apply to clinics that do not offer abortion services.

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“Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky is disappointed in defunding that limits the ability to provide crucial services and eliminates the possibility of future strategic collaborations around programming with cervical cancer prevention, teen pregnancy and HIV testing,” Patti Stauffer, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), wishes the state could do more to attack Planned Parenthood’s budget.

“Due to existing federal law and prior federal court of appeals decisions, this bill does not impact Medicaid funds that flow to Planned Parenthood,” Wise said in a press statement. “While that is regrettable … it is the current landscape within which we must work. … Until more significant changes can be made at the federal level, we must do what we can to keep public funds from groups like Planned Parenthood which callously profit from death.”

Many states have taken aim at Planned Parenthood after last year’s release of the surreptitiously recorded, heavily edited videos made by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, which has worked closely with Republican legislators in attacking funding for the health-care organization.

The videos were deceptively edited in an attempt to show that Planned Parenthood engaged in illegal fetal tissue sales. Multiple investigations have turned up no wrongdoing on the part of organization. Last month, a grand jury in Houston, Texas declined to indict Planned Parenthood for alleged criminal conduct related to its fetal tissue donation program, and instead indicted two of the anti-choice activists behind the smear videos.

Kentucky’s newly-elected Gov. Matt Bevin, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, has questioned the legality of abortion services at the Louisville clinic. Though Planned Parenthood officials maintain they are legally within their rights to offer those services, they have halted abortion care until the issue is resolved.

Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) voted against SB 7, saying that the Planned Parenthood clinic in his district served 1,350 people in 2014, and that 60 percent of those people fell below 100 percent of the poverty line, according to a press statement.

“Planned Parenthood serves a profound public purpose in this country and in this state,” Thomas said. “First of all, Planned Parenthood serves women who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to … obtain the family planning services that we value as a society.”

Before the floor debate and subsequent vote on SB 7, the state senate went into recess so that some senators could walk another abortion-related bill, SB 4, to Bevin’s office for his signature. That bill, now signed into law, will force women to seek an in-person or real-time video conference with a health-care provider at least 24 hours before receiving abortion care. House Democrats added the “real-time video” option to the original informed consent bill as a less burdensome option for women seeking abortions.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly noted the state senate voted to defund Planned Parenthood on Wednesday. The vote was take on Tuesday.

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