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UPDATE: Kentucky Legislature passes omnibus abortion bill, adds 15-week ban

A large banner reading "Bans off My Body" is draped over the steps at the Kentucky Capitol, as several demonstrators talk in the background.
Demonstrators at the Kentucky Capitol protested late last month against a bill restricting abortion in the state. It became law last week, but two organizations have filed documents in federal court asking judges to block it/.

The Republican-led Kentucky Legislature approved a more than 60-page measure to limit abortion and prepare the state to even further restrict the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court undercuts abortion rights.

House Bill 3, sponsored by Republican Rep. Nancy Tate of Brandenburg, would make it harder for minors to get abortions by requiring parents or guardians to sign off on the procedure, or if they live apart, make a reasonable effort to contact the other parent ahead of the abortion. It also sets a higher standard for judges to approve abortions for minors without parental consent.

The measure restricts abortion medication by requiring all providers to be certified by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, with their names and addresses recorded in a public portal and subject to violations. Prescribers must also examine the patient in-person before authorizing the pill. 

During a debate on the Senate floor, lawmakers voted down an amendment that would have exempted patients in cases of rape or incest. 

Lawmakers then approved an amendment to add language banning abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy, mirroring the Mississippi abortion law currently being deliberated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The language was lifted from a separate proposal advancing in the legislature, Senate Bill 321, which already passed the Senate earlier this month.

Several Democratic senators walked off the floor just before the final vote, including Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville. Before the vote, Berg, a doctor, called the bill an attempt to “stop the single safest form of first-trimester abortion.” Berg said Republican legislators were using moral grounds to regulate the procedure “out of existence.” 

Tate, the bill’s  sponsor, has said the measure is not meant to end abortion, but make it safer.

Abortion rights demonstrators gathered in the gallery during the debate, voicing opposition to the bill as the senators walked out, and continued in the rotunda.

Earlier in the day, about 30 protesters gathered on the Kentucky Capitol steps, voicing worries that the state could lose legal abortion access in a matter of weeks.

Joanne Taheri, a pharmacist for more than 30 years, had concerns about the pharmacist certification requirement.

“We go to school for seven years to become a pharmacist, we’re very well educated on the pharmacology of the drugs and to have to be certified to dispense [these] drugs is an abomination,” she said.

“They just want to put more restrictions and completely eliminate the possibility of an abortion.”

The bill also has an emergency clause, which means it would go into effect immediately once it passes out of the legislature.

Abortion rights supporters say that would mean an effective end to legal abortions in the state because the certification protocol for doctors and pharmacists wouldn’t yet be in place.

Erin Smith, executive director at the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said advocates are bracing for the impact of losing access to the procedure. “We’re trying to do the best we can to take care of community but also continuing the fight to keep abortion a part of healthcare, keep abortion as an individual’s choice,” she said.

Smith said advocacy organizations will continue to provide help to people seeking abortions, including transportation to other areas.

Tamarra Wieder, director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Kentucky, said she and others will keep fighting if the legislation becomes law. 

“We are not going away, because this care is so important,” Wieder said. “It is linked to maternal health, it is linked to reproductive health so intrinsically, and our outcomes in Kentucky are so bad already.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will now consider the bill. Lawmakers can easily override a governor's veto with a majority vote in each chamber.

This story has been updated.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.