Politics & Government

Ky. bill to require pre-abortion ultrasound goes to full Senate

State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville
State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville Provided by Legislative Research Commission

A Senate panel approved a bill Thursday to require that Kentucky women who are seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound, with a doctor describing the image to them.

Senate Bill 152 proceeds to the full Senate, which has passed ultrasound bills in previous years, only to see them blocked in the House Health and Welfare Committee. But this year, the House’s Democratic majority is politically defensive about its shrinking size, and it has allowed another abortion bill to become law, one that requires live consultations between doctors and patients at least 24 hours before an abortion.

The Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection voted 11 to 1 for the ultrasound bill. Women might not understand what they’re doing when they get an abortion if they first don’t have a chance to see the image inside their uterus, Democratic and Republican senators said.

“This decision is an irreversible decision,” said Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort. “There’s no way to ever correct it if you later decide, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’ It’s too late.”

The bill would impose penalties on doctors who failed to comply, including possible disciplinary action by the state and fines of as much as $100,000 for a first offense and $250,000 for subsequent offenses.

Opponents of the bill said it would intrude into the doctor-patient relationship. There is no valid medical reason to force women to partially undress and undergo a procedure that could be emotionally stressful, Dr. Sarah Wallett, a Lexington obstetrician/gynecologist, told the committee.

Derek Selznick, director of the Kentucky ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, agreed.

“This is not informed consent. This is about politicians trying to bully, shame and humiliate women who have already made the personal, informed and heart-wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy,” Selznick said..

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he filed the bill on behalf of a friend who had an abortion after a nurse refused her requests for an ultrasound, telling her, “It’s best we not go down that road.” Westerfield said his friend regretted the abortion and thinks that she might have acted differently had she been permitted to see an ultrasound image.

“As important as the doctor-patient privilege is — and it is — it’s not as important as the life,” Westerfield said. “This is about giving the mother all the information she can have. This isn’t about shaming.”

Thirteen states have enacted laws requiring an ultrasound before an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that tracks abortion legislation around the country.

An ultrasound law passed by the North Carolina legislature was struck down in 2014 by a federal judge who declared it illegal because it inserted ideological, rather than medical, priorities into the relationship between doctors and patients. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, and last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Also Thursday, at an anti-abortion rally in the Capitol rotunda, Gov. Matt Bevin held a ceremonial signing for Senate Bill 4, the informed consent bill.

As originally written by Senate Republicans, the bill would require that women have a face-to-face meeting with their doctor at least 24 hours before getting an abortion to hear of the medical risks and benefits, of the legal responsibilities of the man who impregnated them, and of adoption alternatives should they choose to give birth. House Democrats amended the bill to add the option of a live video chat between women and their doctors.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics