After taking control of both houses of the Kentucky legislature, Republicans are poised to give new momentum to legislation banning abortion in the state after 20 weeks.
The ban was introduced in a bill in the state Senate on Tuesday, the first day of the legislative session, and could get a vote this week, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Similar legislation has been blocked in the Kentucky house in the past, but Republicans won an overwhelming majority in the chamber in the November election.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a 20-week abortion ban into law last month, joining 17 other states that already had such restrictions on the books. Very few abortions occur after 20 weeks, and most of those that do are usually due to severe medical complications.
The Supreme Court precedent set in Roe v. Wade protects a woman’s right to have an abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks, but reproductive rights advocates worry that 20-week abortion laws could be used as a vehicle to overturn Roe. Anti-abortion advocates support the 20-week abortion ban by claiming fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of development ― a claim unsupported by scientific evidence.
Lawmakers are also considering a separate bill that would ban any state and local funds from going toward any organization that provides abortion services.
“The attempt to ban abortions at 20 weeks is cruel, dangerous, and poses a serious threat to women’s health,” Amber Duke, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said in an email. “Legislation like SB5 ignores women’s individual circumstances and denies them the dignity to make personal, private decisions. A woman should make decisions about abortion, adoption and pregnancy with those she trusts, not with politicians.”
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood also hosted a press conference in Frankfort, the state capitol, to denounce the measures on Wednesday. Both groups accused Republicans of moving too quickly on the measures.
“This legislative session measures are being advanced at unprecedented speed,” they said in a joint press release. “Things are moving so quickly, members of the public and press were unable to obtain copies of the 20-week abortion ban and ultrasound bills before they received a reading and were headed to committee for a vote.”
The Kentucky House is also considering two controversial bills that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people and require that public bathrooms be designated for use “based on biological sex.”
Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky LGBTQ advocacy organization, condemned the bills and said the state could face backlash like North Carolina did after it passed similar legislation last year.
“The effect of passing this type of discriminatory legislation is clear. It will cost the state millions of dollars,” Hartman said in a statement. “If Kentucky lawmakers want to remain focused on improving our commonwealth’s economy, this is exactly the legislation they should avoid. Furthermore, if Kentucky fans hope to host NCAA College Basketball championship games in the future, they must speak out against HB 105 and HB 106.”
Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said the measures under consideration were a result of Republicans being emboldened after the November elections.
“Republican legislators in Kentucky have been straining against the restraint of sane Democratic House control for years while they watched their ultra-conservative brethren in other states pass these oppressive bills,” she said in an email. “Surely they’re aware of the hundreds of millions of dollars such measures have cost North Carolina. We’ll see if enough GOPers are willing to put the economic wellbeing of the state above their hateful ideological agenda.”
UPDATE: The Kentucky state Senate on Thursday voted, 30-6, to approve the bill, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest. It now heads to the state House, where it is expected to pass as well.