Politics & Government

Senate gives final approval to ‘informed consent’ abortion bill; Bevin will sign it into law

Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his budget Tuesday before a joint legislative session in the House chambers at the Kentucky state Capitol.
Gov. Matt Bevin delivered his budget Tuesday before a joint legislative session in the House chambers at the Kentucky state Capitol. Associated Press

After several lawmakers gave emotional accounts of seeing the heartbeats of their children in ultrasounds, the Kentucky Senate gave final approval and sent to Gov. Matt Bevin a controversial anti-abortion bill on Monday.

Bevin, who is strongly against abortion, said he will sign into law Senate Bill 4, the so-called “informed consent” bill. It is the first bill legislators have sent to him this session.

“The overwhelming support for Senate Bill 4 in the Kentucky legislature is a positive step toward protecting the emotional and physical health and safety of women,” Bevin said in a statement. “When enacted, we will ensure that the legislative regulations follow the full intent of the law with regards to a face-to-face, real-time informed consultation. I look forward to signing this long overdue, pro-life bill into law.”

The measure initially required women to have a face-to-face medical consultation at least 24 hours before an abortion. The House amended the bill to let women choose between a face-to-face meeting and a live video chat. The Senate on Monday agreed with the House change and approved it on a 33-5 vote.

The Senate’s final approval of the bill marked the first time in 12 years the Kentucky General Assembly has approved an anti-abortion bill.

The ACLU of Kentucky issued a news release soon after the Senate vote, saying “this legislation is opening a door to unprecedented government meddling in personal health consultation” and it “adds an unnecessary barrier to safe and legal abortions, by requiring a 24-hour, forced delay before the procedure for counseling.”

Derek Selznick, the group’s reproductive freedom project director, said “thousands of Kentucky families don’t have ready access to high-speed internet necessary to use live, real-time communication services like Skype.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate GOP caucus discussed this issue earlier in the day during a meeting behind closed doors.

Stivers said public libraries have computers and doctors have the video technology women could use.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, watched the Senate vote from the back of the chamber with several other Republican House members.

“I can’t begin to express the level of my happiness and appreciation for members of both the House and Senate in their efforts to work to find consensus on a pro-life bill that is so important to so many Kentuckians.,” Hoover later said.

The five votes against the bill in the Senate were cast by four Louisville Democrats — Perry Clark, Denise Harper Angel, Morgan McGarvey and Gerald Neal — and Lexington Democrat Reginald Thomas.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said the bill is “long overdue.” He said the issue was “not Democrat or Republican; it’s right or wrong.”

He recalled seeing his son’s heartbeat nine years ago in an ultrasound. “I knew he was a human being.”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he was voting for the bill in memory of the millions of babies “killed” since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed abortions in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

He quoted part of Jeremiah 1:5 in the Bible: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart ...”

Thomas said he saw “no purpose for this legislation.” He said there always have been unwanted pregnancies.

The legislature passed an informed-consent law in the 1990s requiring that women who seek abortions 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.

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