Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have advanced a bill to put more restrictions on abortions, drawing threats of another courtroom fight in a state that's become a legal battleground on the issue.
The measure approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would prohibit an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation after roughly 11 weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies.
The committee's approval came two days after lawmakers heard testimony and one year after they passed two other abortion-related measures. Top leaders in the House said the new bill has broad support in the Republican-led chamber.
Abortion-rights activists said Monday that the bill would ban the most common method of second-trimester abortions and warned its passage would provoke a legal challenge. They said identical measures have been struck down in several states.
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"Let's be honest here, House Bill 454 is attempting to curtail full access to abortion in the commonwealth, which is unconstitutional," said Planned Parenthood official Tamarra Wieder.
The bill's opponents warned the proposed restrictions could lead some women to go to "extreme and unsafe lengths" to end unwanted pregnancies.
The bill's chief sponsor says there are differences to laws in other states that would enable the Kentucky version to withstand a legal challenge.
Rep. Addia Wuchner said her bill targets a procedure that she described as "gruesome."
If the bill becomes law, abortion providers found in violation would be guilty of a felony that carries a prison sentence. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.
Wuchner, a Republican from Florence, said at Monday's hearing that the bill would not take away abortion rights.
"While there is no doubt that I am pro-life, this is not a total ban on abortion in the commonwealth after 11 weeks, but a prohibition of a procedure that is gruesome ... and not necessary because women would have other methods available," she said told the committee.
Republicans have aggressively pushed abortion measures since Republican Matt Bevin won the governorship and the GOP took complete control of the General Assembly.
In the opening days of last year's legislative session, 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 life of the mother is in danger.
The ultrasound law was challenged, and a federal judge struck it down. The state appealed. The judge's ruling meant doctors at Kentucky's lone abortion clinic will not be forced to perform ultrasounds and describe them in detail while the pregnant woman listens to the fetal heartbeat. The law said women could close their eyes and ask to have the sound of the heartbeat turned off.
In another case, the clinic is embroiled in a licensing fight that began when Bevin's administration claimed the facility lacked proper agreements with a hospital and an ambulance service in case of medical emergencies. The clinic filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the state from revoking its license. A trial was held last year but no ruling has been issued.
In Mississippi on Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The House is expected to also approve the bill, and the governor has indicated that he would sign it.