Politics & Government

Kentucky might have more restrictive abortion laws by this weekend

Kentucky could have two new laws that restrict abortions in effect by this weekend.

Over strong opposition from the ACLU of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood, a state Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday to ban abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant and a House committee signed off on a bill requiring doctors to present the results of an ultrasound to women seeking abortions.

Both the Senate and House — controlled by Republicans — are expected to vote Thursday on the bills that emerged from their committees in hopes of sending them to Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature by week’s end.

To do that, the legislature would have to hold a rare Saturday meeting. Saturday would mark the fifth day of this year’s law-making session and it takes at least five days for a bill to get through both chambers.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Wednesday, the second day of this year’s 30-workday session, that it is likely the legislature will meet Saturday to vote on bills that were approved by committees on Wednesday.

John Cox, a spokesman for the Senate, said no official decision has been made about a possible Saturday meeting. The legislature is now scheduled to meet through Friday and then resume Feb. 7. Each day of the session costs taxpayers $67,679.33.

Both abortion bills that got out of committee Wednesday contain an emergency clause, which means they would become effective immediately after they are signed by Bevin, who supports restricting abortions.

On an 11-3 vote Wednesday, the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee approved Senate Bill 5, the 20-week ban bill.

Its sponsor, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said the only exception to the ban would be in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Earlier this week, he had said there also would be exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

In voting against the bill, Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, said it should provide exceptions for rape and incest cases.

Smith also revealed Wednesday that the bill contains a provision to allow private contributions to a trust fund overseen by the state Finance Cabinet that would pay for any possible legal defense of the measure.

ACLU and Planned Parenthood have not yet decided whether to challenge the proposal in court if it becomes law.

The Senate committee heard emotional testimony against the bill from Heather Hyden and James Earley of Lexington, who are expecting their first child.

Hyden said she is 14 weeks pregnant and her baby has a medical condition that could take its life.

“I might be forced to carry a dead fetus if the bill becomes law,” said Hyden.

Smith said he did not think his bill would affect her, but she disagreed.

Testifying with Smith for the bill was Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a non-profit that says on its website it is “dedicated to preserving the bedrock values of life, marriage and fiscal responsibility in Kentucky.”

Nelson called SB 5 “humane legislation” and took issue with testimony from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood that said there is no evidence that a pre-viable fetus feels pain.

Ultrasound bill

The 14-5 vote Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee for House Bill 2 came after a contentious hearing in which chairman Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, limited testimony and opponents of the measure often shouted out their concerns.

The ultrasound bill has been considered in past legislative sessions but has never emerged from a House committee until Wednesday. State Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, explained the bill to the House committee after showing a two-minute video of an ultrasound procedure with the beating heart of a fetus.

She said women could decline to view the ultrasound images and that doctors and other health care providers who do not comply with the law would be fined $100,000 for the first offense and $250,000 for subsequent offenses.

State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, asked Wuchner if she has ever been in an abortion clinic. After a follow-up question, Fischer said he was limiting members to one question and one follow-up.

Several members of the audience later objected when Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, got to ask at least three questions.

In explaining his vote, Lee said opponents of the measure talk about the constitutional rights of women but never about the constitutional rights of unborn babies.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said he voted for the bill because he considers it a perversion for anyone to say less information is better.

Burch, who often killed anti-abortion bills when he chaired the House Health and Welfare Committee, voted against it, claiming that many of his colleagues who support it “speak from no experience.”

The only Democrat to vote for the ultrasound bill was Rep. Kevin Sinnette of Ashland.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the state ACLU, said a rally will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda to protest the anti-abortion bills.

Marjorie Montgomery, with Kentucky Right to Life, said her group will hold a rally supporting the proposals on Feb. 8 in Frankfort.

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