Friday, March 23, 2018

Ban of most common type of 2nd-trimester abortions nears passage; foes say it's part of larger strategy to ban abortion

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A House bill to ban the most common method of second-trimester abortion is near final passage after passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate on the same day, despite warnings that its passage would lead to a legal fight.

Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said concerns about being sued over a bill that protects an unborn child and the potential legal cost to taxpayers shouldn't be a consideration in voting for this bill. "It's worth challenging precedent," he said.

Rep. Addia Wuchner
House Bill 454, sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, would prohibit an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E, after roughly 11 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies. The procedure involves dilating the cervix and removing the fetus using suction and surgical tools.

If the bill becomes law, abortion providers found in violation of it would be guilty of a felony that carries a prison sentence. The women undergoing the procedure would not be prosecuted.

A federal court has struck down a ban on the procedure in Texas, and similar bans have been temporarily blocked in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma while litigation proceeds. Mississippi and West Virginia have similar bans that haven't been challenged in court, because the bans aren't expected to have an impact on abortion services, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, told both the committee and the full Senate that no federal judge from the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers Kentucky, has ever ruled on such a law.

Wuchner said at the March 22 committee meeting that the bill did not prohibit all abortion methods after the 11-week mark in Kentucky because Kentucky women would still be able to get a second-trimester abortion through the induction of labor or a procedure called dilation and curettage, or D&C, which involves dilating the cervix and removing the contents of the uterus by scraping and scooping.

In presenting the bill on the floor, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said, “Abortions by dismemberment, crushing or suction are brutal procedures which are and should be considered repulsive, barbaric and inhumane by any society standards. “This bill upholds basic human dignity.”

Opponents of the bill said that without access to legal D&E procedures, Kentucky women will be limited to undergoing more expensive abortions that takes longer and involve a hospital stay.

Marcie Crim, executive director at Kentucky Health Justice Network, told the committee that Kentucky Revised Statute 311.800 will make getting an abortion after 11 weeks near impossible because it says that no publicly owned hospital or publicly owned healthcare facility can perform abortions, except to save the life of the pregnant woman -- and most of Kentucky's hospitals are either publicly owned or owned by a religious organization.

The bill passed the Senate 31-5, with Democrats Julian Carroll of Frankfort, Reginald Thomas of Lexington and Perry Clark, Denise Harper Angel and Morgan McGarvey of Louisville voting against it. Sens. Gerald Neal of Louisville and Robin Webb of Grayson did not vote.

The bill returned to the House for consideration of a change made in the Senate to add a definition for "unborn child." The bill passed the House March 12 on a 71-11 vote.

Tamarra Wieder, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, told the committee that experts from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose such laws.

"This bill is part of a larger anti-abortion strategy to ban abortion law by law, method by method," she said. "House bill 454, which uses inflammatory, non-medical language to ban abortion, is further proof of this bill's intent."

In 2016, the state's "informed consent" law was amended to require women seeking an abortion to have a face-to-face or live-chat consultation before the procedure.

In 2017, when Republicans took full control of the General Assembly, it passed two abortion bills that were signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who was elected in 2015. One banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother's life is in danger. The other required women to get an ultrasound before an abortion that included an audible heartbeat, and required the doctor to show and describe the image of the fetus to the patient before performing the abortion. This law was struck down in court, but the state has appealed.

The only remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky, EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, is in a legal battle with the state over licensing issues.

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