Politics & Government

Abortion ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy put on fast track in Kentucky Senate

Sign across the street from the EMW Women’s Clinic, 161 Burt Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, March 3, 2016.
Sign across the street from the EMW Women’s Clinic, 161 Burt Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, March 3, 2016. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Women would not be allowed to get an abortion in Kentucky if they are more than 20 weeks pregnant under a controversial bill filed Tuesday on the first day of the state’s 2017 law-making session.

The bill appears to be on a fast track now that Republicans control the House, Senate and governor’s office. Most proposals in recent years to limit abortion have died in the Democratic-controlled House, but Republicans won a 64-36 super majority in November.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Senate Bill 5 will be heard by a Senate committee Wednesday and could get a vote on the Senate floor this week.

Once approved by the Senate, the measure would go to the House, where newly elected Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said there would be “overwhelming support” for the bill.

The proposal is the first considered by the Kentucky legislature that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Stivers said a similar measure has been approved by a federal appellate court but has not been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard, exceptions would be made in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life is in danger. Smith said his bill would require fines and suspensions for doctors who perform abortions after 20 weeks.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the state ACLU, questioned the constitutionality of the proposal and said decisions about abortions should not be made by politicians.

The ACLU of Kentucky has scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference Wednesday in room 111 of the Capitol Annex with Planned Parenthood to talk about abortion legislation in this year’s legislative session. She said a rally is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda.

Mary Branham, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Medical Association, said the group had no immediate comment on the bill.

Planned Parenthood said on its website that nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks, but when they are needed later in pregnancy, it’s often in a complex situation where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.

Ali Slocum, with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the group would have to decide whether to challenge Smith’s bill in court if it is signed into law.

Another anti-abortion bill is to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee at noon Tuesday. House Bill 2, sponsored by Hoover, would require a doctor to present the results of an ultrasound to a woman before an abortion.

Identical bills in past sessions have won approval in the Senate but died in the Democratic-controlled House.

Stivers said the quick pace of abortion legislation this year is not unusual.

Reminded that the Kentucky legislature has never considered a 20-week abortion ban, Stivers said “I think we are very well aware of the issues as it relates to this bill and are ready and willing to proceed with this bill.”

Stivers said his personal preference would be to ban abortions starting at a date before 20 weeks.

“This is my belief: there are two viable beings involved,” he said. “One had a choice early on to make a decision to conceive or not. Once conception starts, another life is involved, and the legislature has the ability to determine how that life proceeds.”

Smith said research shows that children in the womb for more than 20 weeks experience pain when aborted.

“Kentuckians need to stop that,” Smith said.

Opponents of similar abortion bans in other states, however, have said such assertions are not supported by scientific evidence.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics