Bill moving in legislature would ban abortions after 15 weeks

Max Wise (Photo by Ryan C. Hermens, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Abortions in Kentucky would be illegal after the 15th week of pregnancy, if the legislature passes a bill that cleared its first hurdle Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve Senate Bill 321, which sponsor Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said is “closely modeled” after a Mississippi law that awaits a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Many legal observers expect the court to uphold the law, setting a new limit for abortions in the U.S. Wise said, “I’m bringing this bill to you so that in the event the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi legislation . . . we will have a pro-life law in place not subject to a good-faith legal challenge.”

The 2018 legislature banned “dilation and evacuation” abortions, which typically take place after 15 weeks, but that law was found unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that established a right to abortion until the fetus could live on its own, about 23 weeks.

Andy Beshear, then attorney general and now governor, did not appeal the federal district court’s ruling, but the high court recently allowed current Attorney General Daniel Cameron to file an appeal. Beshear said yesterday that any laws limiting abortion should have exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Wise’s bill would allow abortion after 15 weeks “to avoid a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman,” or to save her life.

It also “finds and declares according to contemporary medical research” that most abortions after 15 weeks “involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child apart” and “that the intentional commitment of such acts for nontherapeutic or elective reasons is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession.”

Dr. Brittany Myers, a Louisville obstetrician-gynecologist, told the committee the bill has “false information and inflammatory language that is focused on shaming and falsely informing the non-medical community,” and said 15 weeks is an arbitrary limit, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

Wise’s bill says that at 12 weeks, a fetus “can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, senses stimulation from the world outside the womb, and has taken on ‘the human form’ in all relevant aspects” under the Supreme Court decision upholding the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Though Wise’s bill depends on the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the legislature has been “moving ahead as if the landmark law has already been struck down,” writes Alex Acquisto of the Herald-Leader. “Over the past six years, Kentucky has not only adopted laws that would make abortion illegal (a 2019 “trigger law” bans abortion immediately if Roe is overturned), and revoke one’s constitutional right to the procedure (Kentuckians will vote on whether to do this in a statewide referendum later this year). But Republican lawmakers have buttressed those laws with a patchwork of other regulations to make the procedure as difficult as possible to access.”
House Bill 3, in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, “would disallow the mailing of abortion pills,’ which now are used in most reported Kentucky abortions, “and create a new arduous certification and monitoring program that the Board of Pharmacy says it simply lacks the staff and resources to manage,” Acquisto writes.
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