First abortion bill of session clears committee; 2 more in hopper; Beshear administration lets Planned Parenthood apply for clinic

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A bill to require health care providers to do everything possible to save the life of a baby who is born alive has passed out of committee and now heads to the full Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, paraphrased several Bible passages in his opening remarks, including one in which the prophet Jeremiah quotes God as telling him that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Westerfield said, “Before we had a window into the womb through ultrasound, the Lord told us what was happening to that growing life — for those who believe and follow God’s word.”

His Senate Bill 9 would require health-care providers give “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born alive, including after a failed abortion, and would make it a felony for not doing so.

The bill, called the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” passed Jan. 23 out of the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on a 9-0 vote, with all but one of them, Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, Republicans. None of the committee’s Democrats were present. The other three Democrats on the committee were not present. 

Westerfield filed a similar bill last year that passed the Senate, but ran out of time in the House. Eighteen of the 38 senators are sponsoring this year’s bill; one, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, R-Prestonsburg, is a Democrat.

Westerfield told reporters after the committee meeting that he was not aware of any instances in which an infant was born alive in Kentucky from a failed abortion and that the measure is needed to “prevent it from ever happening,” Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press.

Westerfield added that he’s concerned about situations such as late-term abortions that are allowed in some states where an infant might survive, Deoborah Yetter reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. Kentucky law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks, before a fetus is considered viable.

In a letter to members of the committee, Kate Miller, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Kentucky, called the bill an “unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation” that “has nothing to do with how abortion care actually works and is based on false claims. Bills like these perpetuate myths and lies about abortion care, patients who receive this care, and the doctors who care for them.”

Westerfield told the committee that he hopes Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear would sign the bill or let it become law without his signature, but if he vetoes it, “I look forward to overriding that veto.” Gubernatorial vetoes can be overridden by majorities in each chamber, and Republicans have supermajorities in both.

Two other anti-abortion bills have been filed in the legislative session that began Jan. 7.

House Bill 67, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, would amend the state constitution to specify that it includes no protection for abortion rights. It has been assigned to the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

House Bill 142, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, would prohibit public money from going to any entity that performs, induces, refers for or counsels in favor of abortions. It has been assigned to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

Last year, the Republican-led General Assembly passed four anti-abortion bills. Two have been delayed by legal challenges, including one that bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected (usually around six weeks of pregnancy) and one banning abortion due to gender, race or disability of a fetus.

A law that bans the most common second-trimester abortion procedure is also being challenged in the courts. This law was struck down by a federal judge, a decision that was appealed by the administration of then-Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican.

In a Jan. 3 letter, the Beshear administration informed Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky that it could apply for a license to provide abortions at its clinic in downtown Louisville, Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal.

That would be the second abortion provider in the state, in addition to EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. An abortion clinic in Lexington closed  in 2016 after enforcement action by Bevin’s administration — which also denied Planned Parenthood’s application and accused it in court of providing 23 illegal abortions.

“Gov. Beshear’s administration recognized that our license had been wrongfully denied and that the previous administration didn’t follow the proper process,” said Hannah Brass Greer, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood has denied that it provided illegal abortions, saying it was acting on instructions of the former administration led by then-Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy Beshear’s father, who advised it to offer the procedure in order to be inspected for final action on the license.

The current Beshear administration has dropped the lawsuit, stating there was no failure to comply with the law, Yetter reports.

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