Wide-ranging abortion measure goes to Beshear’s desk; Planned Parenthood says bill would ‘eliminate abortion access in Kentucky’

Abortion rights supporters briefly disrupted the state Senate on Tuesday as they voted to pass House Bill 3, a measure that adds multiple new restrictions on abortion. (Courier Journal photo by Deborah Yetter)

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT – The legislature has passed a wide-ranging abortion bill that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy and that Planned Parenthood says would “eliminate abortion access in Kentucky.”

The Senate passed the bill 29-0. Every Democrat but Sen. Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown, who voted yes, left the chamber in solidarity with protesters in the gallery overlooking the chamber. Hours later, the House concurred with the Senate’s changes and sent the bill to Gov. Andy Beshear on a vote of 74-19.

As senators voted, protesters chanted “Abortion is health care.” After security officers escorted them out, they gathered on the landing below the Senate steps and chanted “Hands off our bodies,” which was audible as the roll call continued.

House Bill 3 would set higher standards for judges to approve abortion without parental consent, strengthen rules for parental consent and disposal of fetal remains, increase reporting requirements, and ban mailing of medications that have become the means for most abortions in Kentucky.

The bill has an emergency clause, which makes it effective upon becoming law, rather than the usual 90-day hiatus. Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey said providers can’t necessarily implement it quickly. “We don’t treat other laws like this in this regard,” he said, and shouldn’t “when this is a decision best left to the woman and her physician.”

Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates issued a statement saying that HB 3 “would completely eliminate abortion access in Kentucky immediately upon becoming law by piling on a laundry list of abortion restrictions so extreme that they would make it impossible for providers to operate in the state.”

“HB 3 is solely and deliberately designed to eliminate all abortion in the state of Kentucky,” said Tamarra Wieder, the group’s state director. “This bill ignores our constitutional rights, dismisses science, and contradicts public opinion. We strongly urge Gov. Beshear to veto this cruel, dangerous bill and support what the majority of Kentuckians want – access to safe and legal abortion.”

Even if Beshear vetoes the bill, all it takes to override him is a majority vote in both chambers.

The abortion medication targeted by the bill consist of two drugs: one to block progesterone, a hormone necessary for a pregnancy to develop; and the other to cause contractions to empty the uterus early in a pregnancy.  In mid-December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the drugs to be sent by mail.

Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician, spoke at length about the need for women to be properly screened and counseled by a “qualified and competent” provider before a “chemical abortion.” He said the bill “Will prevent at-home, pill-by-mail, do-it-yourself abortions that leave women to fend for themselves if medical complications arise.”

He said a peer-reviewed study of Medicaid claims data shows that emergency-room visits following chemical abortions are on the rise, occurring as frequently as 35 ER visits per 100 abortions. As evidence, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, gave Kentucky Health News a study from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports: “Medication abortion is a safe and highly effective method of pregnancy termination if the pills are administered at nine weeks’ ge­­station or less, the pregnancy is terminated successfully 99.6% of the time, with a 0.4% risk of major complications, and an associated mortality rate of less than 0.001 percent (0.00064%).”

Language from Senate Bill 321 to ban abortions in Kentucky after the 15th week of pregnancy was added to HB 3 in a floor amendment. SB 321’s sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the bill is “closely modeled” after a Mississippi law that is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In the event that the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi legislation as constitutional,” he said, “we will then have a pro-life law in place that would not be subject to a good-faith legal challenge.”

An amendment filed by Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, to add exceptions for rape or incest to HB 3 failed to pass. Without it, she said, “This body turns its back on these victims of heinous crimes.”

Alvarado and Tate said current law allows abortion for any reason up to 20 weeks, so such exceptions are not necessary. Alvarado added that the judicial process to bypass lack of parental consent would help a minor with that decision.

Legislators in both chambers spoke to the difficulties minors already have with the judicial-bypass process, and said the tighter parental-consent rules will make getting abortions more difficult, especially for immigrants, the poor and those living in rural areas.

The bill would require the minor and the consenting parent or legal guardian to have a government-issued identification and show the judge that a reasonable attempt has been made to notify a parent or legal guardian with joint or physical custody within 48 hours prior to the consent being signed.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, said most young people talk to their parents before an abortion, but those who don’t typically don’t because of fear of harm, including being kicked out of the home. Others, she said, may not live with their parents or be able to locate them.

“Parental consent laws force young people to delay care, travel out of state, incur additional cost to obtain care or forego care altogether,” she said.

The bill would establish an online complaint portal with the names of all physicians in Kentucky who provide abortion services. McGarvey said that will put them at risk, because there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 189 arsons and thousands of criminal activities directed at people providing legal abortion services since 1977.

McGarvey said the portal would allow anonymous publication of complaints, and such a portal in Texas has led to “thousands upon thousands” of false complaints from both sides that the law requires state government to investigate, wasting time and money.

The debate was as passionate as it was familiar.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville and a physician, said medication abortion is safer than pulling a wisdom tooth and 14 times safer than childbirth, but “There are certain legislators who feel that they have a right to regulate their personal religious and their personal moral beliefs over the rest of us under the guise, under the guise of safety for women. . . . Leave your religion and morality out of my health-care decisions.”

But Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, won applause in the House by saying he voted because of the 4,104 “children” who were “murdered” by the 4,104 abortions in Kentucky in 2020: “My purpose in being in this chamber is to see this atrocity stopped.”

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