Politics & Government

House approves abortion bill in rare floor vote

Democrats who run the Kentucky House hoped Thursday that they outmaneuvered, at least for now, Republicans who have agitated this winter for floor votes on anti-abortion legislation.

In a surprise meeting of the House Health and Welfare Committee, held in a cramped back office at the Capitol, Democratic leaders unveiled an amended version of the controversial Senate Bill 4, known as the “informed consent bill.”

Originally, SB 4 would have required women to get a face-to-face medical consultation at least 24 hours before an abortion, in some instances requiring women to take time off work and make multiple trips to a clinic in Louisville or Lexington that provides abortions. The new version would let women choose between a face-to-face meeting and a live video chat.

The committee quickly approved the measure. Not long after, the House voted 92 to 3 to pass the rewritten bill and send it back to the Senate. That temporarily removed a politically sensitive wedge issue from House Democrats’ plate in an election year where they are scrambling to hang onto their narrow majority.

The compromise measure should be welcome if Republican lawmakers are interested in women getting medical information about abortion, and not in erecting barriers to women’s health care, said House Health and Welfare Chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville.

“We’re doing exactly what you guys want,” Burch told GOP members of his committee who were protesting the last-minute changes to the bill.

Republican lawmakers complained to Burch about how hastily the bill was altered and pushed through the House.

“I’m handed a six-page document as I walk in here that I’ve got eight seconds to read,” said Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville. “I find it absurd. I really do.”

Although it wasn’t the original bill the Republican-led Senate passed or that GOP House members tried to win a floor vote on in recent days, using obscure parliamentary maneuvers, it was a bill tightening rules on women seeking abortion. In the end, the House voted for it overwhelmingly, with both parties joining together.

I’m happy that after 14 years we were able to vote on the House floor for a very important piece of pro-life legislation,” House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said afterward.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, cast one of the three votes against the bill. Marzian, who is a nurse, said she resented “a bunch of politicians dictating to women their health care decisions.”

The legislature passed an informed-consent law in the 1990s requiring that women who seek an abortion first must be told of the medical risks and benefits of the procedure. Supporters of the law said they intended for that counseling to take place in person, between a doctor and his patient in the same room. But the final language was not that specific, and counseling by telephone, sometimes with a recorded message, has become common practice.

On Thursday, the Reproductive Freedom Project at the Kentucky ACLU issued a statement criticizing the amended bill.

“Senate Bill 4, despite language added in committee, remains an attempt by legislators to interfere with patients and the care they deserve from medical care providers, masquerading itself as a bill that helps women,” the group said.