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Kentucky’s Senate Republicans Advance Forced Ultrasound Bill

Jenn Stanley

A Planned Parenthood representative believes that pressure to hold onto their majority during March special elections could lead many Kentucky Democrats in the state house to vote in favor of the GOP's anti-choice laws.

Republicans in the Kentucky state senate last week continued to push their anti-choice agenda, this time with a measure that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the image to people seeking abortion care.

The Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection voted 11-1 on Thursday to approve SB 152, which is the latest anti-choice policy to move easily through the GOP-dominated chamber.

The move is one more step toward Republicans’ agenda designed to “send a message to voters” regarding their commitment to passing anti-choice policies.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), said that while the bill does not require the person seeking the abortion to watch the image, the doctor must describe what the image shows. The doctor performing the abortion must perform the ultrasound, and failure to do so would result in a $100,000 penalty for the first offense and $250,000 for subsequent offenses.

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“This bill really interferes with the doctor-patient relationship by allowing politicians to determine medical practices over the wishes of the provider and patient,” Tamarra Wieder, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, told Rewire. “It also creates complications and barriers for providers. A lot of providers are only in the clinic for one day a week or two days a week for the procedure, not ultrasounds.”

Similar bills have been struck down in North Carolina and Oklahoma, according to Wieder.

Derek Selznick, the Reproductive Freedom Project director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, has been a vocal critic of the wave of anti-choice bills in the state’s legislature. He told the Courier-Journal that this bill “is not informed consent.”

“This is about politicians trying to bully, shame and humiliate women who have already made their personal and often heart-wrenching decision to end their pregnancy,” Selznick said.

The bill now moves to the full state senate for vote, where it’s expected to pass. It’s unclear what its fate will be in the house, where Democrats are trying to hold onto their 50-46 majority as they face four special elections in March.

The GOP’s forced ultrasound bill was approved the same day that outspoken anti-choice Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the informed consent bill that recently passed after Democrats in the house updated it to include the option for real-time video counseling, rather than just in-person counseling. It was the first bill sought by abortion rights opponents in 12 years that overcame opposition in the Kentucky house, Bevin told a crowd the day of the signing.

Wieder believes that pressure to hold onto their majority during the special elections could lead many Democrats in the house to vote in favor of the GOP’s anti-choice laws.

“We have heard rumblings that abortion will be thrown under the bus for other progressive issues,” Wieder told Rewire. Wieder added that Kentuckians need to stay more informed about and involved in the state government.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what’s going on, and the rights that they have that are being taken away,” Wieder said. “People haven’t spoken up and out against bills that would trample their rights. Getting your voice out there and talking to your representatives is critically important.”

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