FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers moved another step closer to banning a common abortion procedure when women are at least 11 weeks into their pregnancies, after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure on Thursday.
As in previous discussions, abortion-rights activists warned that enacting the measure would embroil Kentucky in another legal fight on the issue.
A few hours after a Senate panel advanced it, the full Senate voted 31-5 to pass the measure, which would prohibit an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation” 11 weeks or later into a pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. The procedure was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions done in Kentucky in 2016, according to state statistics.
The bill returns to the House, which will consider a change by senators that kept intact the bill’s intent. Republicans have big majorities in both chambers. If the House accepts the updated version, the measure would go to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a staunch abortion opponent.
Abortion-rights activists say the bill would ban the most common method of second-trimester abortions. The bill’s supporters countered by describing the procedure in graphic detail.
Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith of Leitchfield on Thursday described the procedure as “repulsive, barbaric and inhumane.” He noted that at 10 weeks, an ultrasound shows that a fetus has fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, legs and ears.
Opponents said the bill amounts to an intrusion into the private medical decisions of women and predicted it would not withstand a court challenge. In several other states, they said, similar laws have been struck down or temporarily blocked while legal challenges proceed.
“We believe it’s callous to impose one rule on every single woman, without knowing the circumstances of her pregnancy,” Kate Miller, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said as the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the bill on Thursday.
The committee hearing became tense and emotional. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, responded to Miller’s comments: “No one talks about how callous it is for the life that is destroyed.”
Planned Parenthood official Tamarra Wieder said the bill’s restrictions were being pushed by politicians, not doctors. She said the measure is part of “a larger anti-abortion strategy to ban abortion law by law, method by method.”
If the bill becomes law, abortion providers found in violation would be guilty of a felony that carries up to five years in prison. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.
Kentucky’s GOP has successfully pushed abortion-related measures since Bevin won the governorship and the GOP took complete control of the General Assembly.
Last year, lawmakers passed two abortion measures. One required women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound. The other banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in danger. The ultrasound law was challenged and a federal judge struck it down. The state has appealed.
The legislation is House Bill 454.