Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Bill to ban most common type of second-trimester abortion heads to House; foes say it would further limit safe access to procedure

A bill to ban the most common method of second-trimester abortion passed out of the House Judiciary Committee March 7, with opponents saying the legislation would severely limit Kentucky women's access to safe abortions.

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.

The committee heard testimony on the bill several days before it took the vote, with opponents of it warning that its passage would result in a legal challenge, pointing out that identical measures had been struck down in several states, Morgan Watkins reports for the Courier Journal..

Wuchner, who chairs the House Health and Family Services Committee, said her bill would be able to withstand a legal challenge if it becomes law, reports Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press.

But Tamarra Wieder, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, told the committee, "Let’s be honest here: House Bill 454 is attempting to curtail full access to abortion in the commonwealth, which is unconstitutional and dangerous."

Several others — including two women who've had abortions, a physician and a minister — also testified against the proposal.

Marcie Crim, executive director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, told the committee that if this bill passes, pregnant women may go to "extreme and unsafe lengths" to end unwanted pregnancies, Watkins reports. “We don’t want more Kentuckians scared and alone in the dark, desperately googling 'How to give myself an abortion',” she said.

Wuchner argued that the bill would not prohibit all abortion methods after the 11-week mark in Kentucky, but instead would outlaw a procedure that is "gruesome, brutal and not necessary."

Lexington physician Lynda Sanders spoke in support of the bill, emotionally telling the committee that Kentucky wasn't providing unborn children some degree of dignity in how their lives ended. She said dismemberment is inhumane and it is better to do second-trimester abortions by inducing labor, to provide "as much dignity as we can for this unborn child."

Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an obstetrician/gynecologist, spoke against the legislation and said that "without access to legal D&E procedures, some women would be limited to undergoing a more expensive abortion that takes longer and involves a hospital stay — barriers that can especially impact women with little money or other resources." She said the bill "would put women in desperate situations" and "lead to women dying en masse."

Watkins reports, "Two states ban the D&E procedure: West Virginia and Mississippi, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Several other states have approved similar bans but have had those policies temporarily or permanently halted by a court challenge.

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.

Top leaders in the House told Schreinerthat the bill is expected to pass out of the Republican-led chamber.

Since 2016, when Republicans took over General Assembly and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin was elected, the General Assembly has passed three abortion measures that were signed into law.

In 2016, the informed consent law was amended to require women seeking an abortion to have a face-to-face or live-chat consultation before an abortion. And two abortion laws were passed in 2017. One required women to get an ultrasound before an abortion that included an audible heartbeat. It also 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. The state appealed. The other one bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother's life is in danger.

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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