Politics & Government

Lawmakers OK fetal heartbeat abortion ban, ‘In God We Trust’ signs in midnight session

The Kentucky General Assembly worked late into the night Thursday, with one day left in its legislative session, easily moving a passel of conservative bills on abortion, religion in public schools and other subjects to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature or veto.

The session’s final day will be March 28, when lawmakers can attempt to override possible vetoes and pass any last-minute bills.

Among the measures getting final passage Thursday in the GOP-controlled legislature was Senate Bill 9, which will ban abortion in Kentucky after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — about six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.

The ACLU of Kentucky said Friday morning it has challenged the law in federal court by expanding a lawsuit it filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Louisville against a bill to restrict abortions sought because a fetus is unhealthy — Senate Bill 5. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to block the state from implementing the laws.

The ACLU is representing EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, the only abortion clinic in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a woman’s right to privacy guarantees her control over her pregnancy during the first trimester. Courts in other states have struck down similar fetal heartbeat bans, including the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

“Taking another page straight out of the anti-abortion playbook, Kentucky became the latest state to pass a law that will ban abortion before most women know they’re pregnant,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “These bans are blatantly unconstitutional, and we will ask the court to strike it down.”

State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, tried to amend SB 9 by adding an exemption for “unborn human individuals with abnormalities that are incompatible with life outside the womb.” When something goes terribly wrong with a pregnancy, Nemes said, relating personal stories, a mother should not be legally bound to carry the baby to term.

“I must ask for this small grace, for the dignity of the mother,” Nemes said.

However, the House overwhelmingly defeated Nemes’ amendment by voice vote. State Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, told Nemes he sympathized with the intent of the amendment, but altering a Senate bill so late in the legislative process — and requiring the Senate to vote to concur with that change — could doom the measure because time was running out.

The legislature late Thursday also gave final passage to:

House Bill 46, which will require all public schools in Kentucky to post “In God We Trust” in a prominent location, such as the lobby. There are no formal penalties if schools don’t post the phrase, but the bill allows people to sue schools to force compliance. At least a half-dozen other states already have passed such a law, including Florida and Tennessee.

Senate Bill 6, which will require more public disclosure from lobbyists doing business with the state’s executive branch. Businesses often spend more than $20 million a year lobbying Kentucky legislators, but no similar tally is counted for executive branch lobbyists, who are more numerous.

Senate Bill 100, a controversial measure that could make it less lucrative for people to install solar energy panels on Kentucky homes by making it less certain at what rates they will be reimbursed for selling excess energy back to the grid. Utility companies pushed SB 100 to get more favorable rates for themselves. Some upset House members said they believed they had reached a deal with the Senate to hammer out a compromise that would protect the state’s nascent solar industry, but that deal fell apart in the end.