Thursday, January 28, 2016

House passes Senate's abortion-consultation bill, after adding a teleconference option

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The Democrat-led House of Representatives voted 92-3 Thursday to require women seeking an abortion to have a face-to-face consultation with a health-care provider 24 hours before the procedure, or -- in an option the House added -- such a consultation by teleconference.

Current law allows women seeking an abortion to have the consultation by telephone or a recording. Critics have said the original bill would create an unfair burden on women, adding additional days off work and cost, especially to those in rural Kentucky who would have to travel in to Lexington or Louisville, the only locations in the state that performs abortions, for the consultation.

The bill returns to the Senate for consideration of the teleconference option, which the House added in a dramatic day of legislative maneuvering. The bill has been posted for a vote on Monday, Feb. 1.

It was a major victory for opponents of abortion and Republicans, who had been trying for more than a decade to require face-to-face consultations. The legislation never made it out of the House Health and Welfare Committee until this session, when Republicans forced floor votes to give the bill readings required before passage, and finally forced a compromise.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, moved to convene the House as a committee on the whole to consider the bill, but he did not get the necessary 51 votes.

Not knowing what would happen today, the Democrats did some maneuvering of their own.

The House session began about 45 minutes late, after Speaker Greg Stumbo and Democratic leaders extended their daily meeting in his offices. Then, after opening ceremonies, Democrats went into a private caucus that lasted well over an hour.

After the House reconvened around 4 p.m., it almost immediately let out again for an emergency Health and Welfare Committee meeting, which produced a new version with the teleconference option.

This meeting was held in a very small office that barely had room to fit its 15 committee members, with journalists and other interested parties hanging out the door.

Republican committee members Richard Benvenuti of Lexington, Phil Moffett of Louisville and Tim Moore of Elizabethtown complained that they had not had time to study the substitute bill.

"This is a six-page document we've had for eight seconds and you want us to vote on it?" Moffett asked. "...This is an awful way to run a railroad."

"We are giving you what you want," replied committee Chair Tom Burch, D-Louisville.

Moffett was the only one to vote against the substitute in commitee, but the other Republican members went on record saying that they reluctantly voted yes "to move this legislation forward."

Before the final vote, Hoover found a drafting error in the substitute, which after some lengthy debate was corrected and then voted on favorably.

Reps. Mary Lou Marizian, D-Louisville, Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville and Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, voted against the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville. It passed the Senate 32-5 on Jan. 19.

Marzian told the House that this issue was not one that Kentuckians were outraged about, but instead, "This is purely a political vote." She called for increased programs to decrease pregnancy, including better access to birth control and better age-appropriate sex-education in schools.

Hoover said afterward, "I am just pleased that the bill has passed and it's gone to the Senate and I hope they will concur so the governor can sign it next week. That is a big day for Kentucky if that happens."

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