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Kentucky GOP Uses New Majority to ‘Fast Track’ Anti-Choice Bills (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

"It's unfortunate after weeks of lawmakers promising business would be their top priority and social issues wouldn't be on the front burner that within hours of gaveling in we see two anti-abortion bills that seem to be on the fast track,” said Amber Duke, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky.

UPDATE, January 6, 3:29 p.m.: Committees in Kentucky’s Republican-controlled house and senate on Thursday passed HB 2 and SB 5. Because both bills have been marked as “emergency” items, they will take effect when the measures are passed by the full house and state senate and the governor signs each bill.

Kentucky Republicans, with a campaign focused largely on economic issues, gained control of the state house on Election Day and secured GOP control over both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

But on the first day of the 2017 legislative session the new Republican majority rapidly shifted focus to fast-tracking legislation that would restrict access to abortion care.

Amber Duke, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky, told the Frankfort Courier-Journal that Kentucky GOP lawmakers’ attempt to push through anti-choice legislation is at odds with campaign promises to address economic issues in a state with the country’s highest poverty rate that ranks third to last in women’s economic progress. 

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“It’s unfortunate after weeks of lawmakers promising business would be their top priority and social issues wouldn’t be on the front burner that within hours of gaveling in we see two anti-abortion bills that seem to be on the fast track,” Duke said.

State Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) on Tuesday filed SB 5, which would unconstitutionally ban abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill does include an exception for medical emergencies.

Smith claimed that the proposal, based on copycat measures drafted by the anti-choice legislation mill known as the National Right to Life Committee, is justified because research shows that fetuses experience pain during the abortion procedure. “Kentuckians need to stop that,” Smith told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Included in the legislative findings of the bill is the claim that there is “substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain 20 weeks after fertilization.”

The myth that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks has been repeatedly discredited by medical professionals.

Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the bill would be heard by a senate committee on Wednesday and could receive a floor vote this week.

The bill would create a trust fund called the “Kentucky pain-capable unborn child protection litigation fund,” which the state would use “to pay for any costs or expenses incurred by the state in relation to actions surrounding the defense” of the law.

Twenty-week bans have been found unconstitutional by the courts, and similar Republican-backed laws in Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho have been struck down.

Stivers told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he would prefer legislation that prohibited abortion prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Kentucky Republicans have introduced two other anti-choice bills.

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), would “prohibit state and local funds from being used, granted, paid, or distributed to an entity, organization, or individual that provides abortion services.”

House Speaker Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) introduced HB 2, which would force a pregnant person to undergo an ultrasound prior to receiving abortion care.  The bill has been designated as an “emergency” item, which means that the proposal would become effective immediately after being signed by the governor rather than 90 days after the legislature adjourns.

Rep. Joseph Fischer (R-Fort Thomas), chairman of the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee, was about to take a vote on the forced ultrasound bill Wednesday after allowing one person to testify in favor of the measure. But after activists in the audience created an uproar, Fischer postponed the vote and said he would allow those scheduled to testify to speak before a vote was taken. The measure was eventually passed by the committee.

The ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky held a press conference on Wednesday during which several speakers shared their personal abortion care experiences and medical professionals denounced the GOP’s anti-choice proposals.

Katie Martin, a Kentucky resident, said during the press conference that when she became pregnant she “was not in a position to be a parent.” Martin said she was able to obtain abortion care from Planned Parenthood.  

“The staff at Planned Parenthood was extremely supportive, nonjudgmental—they really cared about my feelings and my comfort,” Martin said. “Like most women I have no regret. I am grateful that I was able to make the decision that was best for me.”

Martin went on to say that she did not understand why women must continually fight for access to basic reproductive health care. “Why don’t we just trust women to know what is best for them and for their bodies?”

The ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky are holding a rally Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda to protest the Republican anti-choice agenda.

Ali Slocum, communications director for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, told Rewire that it was “disheartening” that Kentucky lawmakers would push measures designed to erode access to abortion care.

“They are really backtracking on the promises they made to the people of Kentucky,“ Slocum said. “If they could backtrack on this then what other promises to the people of Kentucky would they backtrack on?”

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