Politics & Government

Tears and ‘torment’ as late-term abortion ban advances in legislature

Heather Hyden and James Earley of Lexington spoke Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, against a proposed ban on abortion in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Hyden told a House committee that she is 14 weeks pregnant with a baby that has a worsening medical condition.
Heather Hyden and James Earley of Lexington spoke Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, against a proposed ban on abortion in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Hyden told a House committee that she is 14 weeks pregnant with a baby that has a worsening medical condition. John Cheves

Kentucky is poised to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for victims of rape or incest.

On Friday, the House Health and Family Services Committee voted 11 to 2 to approve Senate Bill 5. The full House is expected to approve the bill Saturday and send it to Gov. Matt Bevin, an abortion opponent, for his signature. Because the bill includes an emergency clause, it will become law as soon as Bevin signs it, rather than the customary 90 days after the legislature adjourns.

SB 5 bill brought passionate testimony from people on both sides of the abortion debate at Friday’s committee hearing.

Heather Hyden and James Earley of Lexington told lawmakers that she is 14 weeks pregnant. They hope to have a healthy boy, Hyden said, but her baby has a worsening medical condition that could take its life and threaten hers. She won’t get the results of an upcoming amniocentesis test that provides more information about the baby’s condition until she is 18 weeks pregnant, Hyden said.

“With this Senate bill about to become law, we’re running out of time,” Hyden tearfully told the committee.

“The reality is, there are fetal malformations that can take place that allow babies to maintain their heartbeat in the womb but unfortunately make them non-viable outside, which cause mothers to birth a stillborn child, an extremely traumatic experience,” she said.

The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade protects women’s right to have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb, typically interpreted as around 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

Fifteen states ban abortion 20 weeks after fertilization, although legal challenges in two states have put those individual bans on hold, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group.

Sen. Brandon Smith, the sponsor of SB 5, told the House committee that he would prefer to ban abortion even earlier in the pregnancy. However, 20 weeks is when a fetus would start to be viable outside of its mother and it begins to feel pain, which makes that a valid time to act, Smith said.

“Senate Bill 5 is an attempt to try and protect the children,” said Smith, R-Hazard. “I wish there was some device where you could let some of the people who say this (fetus) doesn’t experience pain … that some of these people could have that experience for themselves, so then they could tell us what these children are going through.”

Speaking to the committee, Smith graphically described what he said was the procedure used to rip apart babies during late-term abortions. Partway into his description, Hyden, sitting behind him in the hearing room, burst into tears and whimpered, “please, Brandon, please!”

One of the committee members, Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, rebuked Smith. “There is a woman behind you that you are just tormenting,” she said.

Smith then brought his description to a quick conclusion.

The abortion ban in SB 5 would not lead to criminal prosecutions of pregnant women, Smith said. It would allow a range of penalties for doctors who violated the ban, from the loss of their medical license to a felony conviction that could bring up to five years in prison.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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