House sends Senate bill to require ultrasounds before abortions; Senate sends House bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – After only one hour of debate, a bill to require women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion passed the state House Thursday, Jan. 5, on a vote of 83-12, and now heads to the Senate for a vote.

That sounds like a routine day at the state Capitol, but there was nothing routine about it – at least in the House, which came under Republican control Tuesday as a result of the Nov. 8 election.

Republicans used party-line votes to limit debate to 30 minutes on each side and made parliamentary maneuvers to block consideration of amendments fild by Democrats.

The bill headed to the Republican-led Senate for a committee action Friday and a floor vote Saturday to send the bill to Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a farther-reaching abortion bill, Senate Bill 5, with a 30-6 vote Thursday. It would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the woman’s life is threatened. It is expected to pass the House and go to Bevin on Saturday.

The bill

The ultrasound bill’s sponsor, Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, said its purpose is to make sure the woman considering the abortion is fully informed of what she is about to do. She said an ultrasound is necessary to assure “informed consent.” Opponents of the bill say requiring this ultrasound is meant to create yet another barrier for these women and to shame them.

During the ultrasound, the technician must simultaneously explain the procedure, including the presence and location of the unborn fetus in the uterus, the number of fetuses and if there has been fetal demise. The ultrasound must be displayed so that the woman can see it; the heartbeat must be such that the woman can hear it; and the technician must provide a medical description of the image.

The bill allows the woman to avert her eyes from the image and to ask for the heartbeat volume to be turned off, but not to refuse the procedure.

Wuchner said that it will be up to the physician to decide what kind of ultrasound is needed, depending on the gestational age of the fetus. A transvaginal ultrasound is typically done early in pregnancy and an external one is done in the later weeks.

The only exemption in the bill is for medical emergencies. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest, which Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, wanted to add but couldn’t because amendments were blocked.

Kentucky already requires women who choose to have an abortion to receive state-directed counseling with a doctor that includes information designed to discourage her from having it 24 hours before the procedure; either in person or by video.

The EMW Surgical Center in Louisville is the state’s only licensed abortion clinic. An abortion cost about $650 and insurance cannot cover it unless the mother’s life is in danger.

The debate

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, an abortion-rights supporter, asked that the rules be suspended for the House to consider her amendment to ban all abortions, “to let the majority party vote on what they truly wanted to do, and that is to outlaw abortion in Kentucky,” but her motion lost on a party-line vote, 28-62. Owens lost a similar motion 27-63.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, shared a personal story about losing a son to abortion because of a condition that caused his brain to not form and eventually put his wife’s life in danger.

“If you’ve lost a child and you see someone have the opportunity to have a child and throw it away, it eats me up,” he said. “Therefore, yes, I rise in support of this, but I’m disappointed a little bit that we had an opportunity to make a vote, and I took that opportunity to make my vote, however it did not pass, where we could just vote to end it.”

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, said she wondered if the bill had been written inappropriately on purpose to require a committee substitute that would make out of order the amendments, which had been drafted to the original bill.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, a Unitarian Universalist minister who said she had counseled many women who chose to have an abortion, said the bill tells women that they “cannot be trusted to be moral agents in their lives.”

As chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee for 30 years, Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, largely refused to hear any anti-abortion bills.

“I am happy to say that since 1986, I was happy and proud to be able to keep this type of legislation off the floor,” he said. “You can’t believe how many Republican legislatures thanked me for doing it because they didn’t want to take this hard vote.”

Burch chastised abortion foes who say that women need to have babies and put them up for adoption.

“If people are so willing to adopt these children, then why do we have 8,300 in state custody that nobody wants? They will end up in the system somewhere; they’ll be in prison; they’ll be in psych wards,” he said. “They’ll be someplace, but they won’t be in a loving home.”

Rep. Mackenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, said similar bills in other states have been ruled unconstitutional and that Kentucky is setting itself up for some expensive legal fees to defend this bill if it is passed.

But Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said “This bill seeks to inform the patient of what else is growing in her body. . . . This is an informational bill that will help women make informed decisions.”

Democrats who were unable to debate the bill because of the time limit took the opportunity to explain their votes, which the rules limit to three minutes.

“It is a sad day, I feel, for Kentucky when we have decided that we need to insert ourselves in the most personal private decisions of families, of women, of physicians, of medical care, and I feel that there is more to come,” Marzian said.

Owens held up a picture of the device used to do a transvaginal ultrasound, which resembled a large penis, and said it would be “a second horrific experience” for a woman impregnated via rape or incest. “To me it is unpardonable to require them to go through this for a pregnancy that they had no control over,” he said.

Freshman Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, noted that Bevin had been tweeting that there is nothing more American than freedom of choice, “yet HB 2 is attacking choice,” she said.

She added, “I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others; yet for political convenience and immediacy we are using HB 2 to strip women of reproductive health choices. In fact, we are assaulting women by forcing them to view an ultrasound.”

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said the House was reflecting the public will. “Last November, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky overwhelmingly voted for pro-life legislators,” he said. “So therefore, I am honored that the first bill that the new majority … is passing out of this House is a pro-life piece of legislation.”

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