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Ky. Republicans advance bill mirroring Mississippi abortion law

FRANKFORT, February 24, -- Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, presents Senate Bill 138, the Teaching American Principles Act, in the Senate.
FRANKFORT, February 24, -- Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, presents Senate Bill 138, the Teaching American Principles Act, in the Senate.

Kentucky Republican lawmakers have advanced a ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, adding to a long list of restrictions passed into law over the last five years.

Supporters hope the measure will further restrict access to abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or revises Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed access to the procedure up to the point in which a fetus can survive outside the womb—generally considered to be after the 24th week of pregnancy.

Senate Bill 321 mimics a blocked Mississippi law currently hanging in the balance of the Supreme Court. Depending on the outcome of that case, legal watchers believe a more conservative version of the high court is poised to significantly curtail abortion rights.

Sen. Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville and sponsor of the bill, said it’s intended to quickly restrict abortions in the state if the court upholds the Mississippi law.

“I’m bringing this bill to you so that in the event the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi legislation as constitutional, we will have a pro-life law in place that would not be subject to a good faith legal challenge,” Wise said.

The bill includes no exemptions for complicated pregnancies or cases or rape or incest. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 8-2 and will now be considered the full Senate.

Kentucky already bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Since Republicans assumed control of the state legislature in 2017, lawmakers have passed several measures to try and restrict the procedure even further, including a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

The “heartbeat bill” and several others have been blocked by federal courts, citing the provision in Roe v. Wade that bans legislatures from passing laws that create substantial obstacles to accessing abortions.

Brittany Myers, OB/GYN doctor in Louisville, said the new proposal is “oozing with nonmedical terminology and misinformation” and would further restrict her ability to counsel and treat her patients.

“I simply cannot safely provide the care and honestly tell my patients that the care I’m providing is what’s best for them,” Myers said.

Kentucky is one of at least a dozen states that has a “trigger law” in place, which would totally ban abortions if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers have also passed a state constitutional amendment that would say nothing in the document guarantees the right to an abortion. Kentucky voters will decide whether to finalize the amendment during a referendum on Election Day this year.

During the hearing on Thursday, a woman from Louisville testified that she wasn’t mentally or financially prepared to have a baby when she was younger, and having an abortion allowed her to go to college and get a job.

Whitney Westerfield, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t want people to be in poverty or struggle with their education, but he believes abortion shouldn’t factor into those considerations.  

“Life is more important. I hate to see life cast aside for things that are not as valuable as life,” Westerfield said.

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville and only woman present on the committee, chastised her male, Republican colleagues for advancing another abortion restriction.

“You are killing women because abortion will continue. Women will continue to have efficacy over their own body, whether or not you make it legal,” Berg said.

The legislation isn’t the only anti-abortion bill making its way through the legislature. Last week the House passed House Bill 3, a sweeping measure that would make it harder for minors to access abortion, put restrictions on abortion medication and require fetal remains to be buried or cremated.