Politics & Government

Tense words as ban on controversial abortion procedure advances in Kentucky Senate

Emotions ran high in a Senate committee Thursday afternoon as the panel approved a bill that would ban a common form of abortion for women who are 11 or more weeks pregnant.

The measure then went to the full Senate, where it was approved 31-5. The House must now decide if it will accept or reject changes made to the bill by the Senate.

The proposal would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation” on women who are 11 weeks or later into a pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. Doctors generally use the procedure in the second trimester.

Opponents of House Bill 454 claim it would force many women to undergo a procedure that is more costly, takes longer and involves a hospital stay. Supporters of the bill call the procedure, which involves dismemberment of a human fetus, cruel and gruesome.

The procedure was used in 537 of the 3,312 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2016, according to state records.

Comments for and against the bill were strong Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, voted for the bill but said it was hypocritical of Republicans to allow the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, to show the committee a graphic video of the abortion procedure while not allowing Democrats to show photos of abused nursing home patients when hearings were held on medical malpractice legislation.

At 10 week of pregnancy, an ultrasound can show the hands, arms, legs, fingers, toes, ears and feet of an unborn baby, Wuchner said.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, cast a “pass” vote on the bill, saying she did not appreciate it that “mostly men dictate” medical procedures for women.

She relayed how doctors told her wrongly that the only way she could survive the birth of her son was to have an abortion because she had a heart problem.

The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, criticized an opponent of the bill, Marcie Crim of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, for using the term “anti-abortion” in her testimony.

“I call it anti-life,” Westerfield said.

As Crim testified about how the bill would hurt women, Westerfield kept asking, “Who helps the baby?”

Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, made it clear that he always votes for bills to curb abortions.

“We in the Seum family don’t throw out our babies with the garbage,” he said.

Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, cast the only vote against the bill. He said it does not contain “an allocation of funds” to pay for the court challenge that will result from it.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said similar bans on the abortion procedure have been blocked by courts in five states — Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama.

“This is legislative interference at its worst,” Miller said. “It’s unconstitutional.”

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