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UPDATED: Ky. legislature overrides veto on 15-week abortion ban, lawsuits announced

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/.

Minutes after Kentucky's Republican-led legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto of a sweeping anti-abortion bill, abortion rights advocates announced they they will sue to block it.

House Bill 3 would make it harder for minors to access abortions and ban the procedure after the 15th week of pregnancy, mirroring the Mississippi ban hanging in the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court. Supporters of the measure say it would make it easier to restrict abortion access in Kentucky, depending on the high court's ruling.

During a debate on the Senate floor Wednesday, Leitchfield Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith called abortion a "stain on our country."

"If a mother can kill her own child, what prevents us from killing ourselves and one another?" Meredith asked.

The Kentucky House voted to override Beshear's veto 76-21 and the Senate voted 31-6.

The bill goes into effect immediately because it has an emergency clause attached to it. But shortly after the measure's final vote in the legislature, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood announced they would file two lawsuits to try and block the measure from being implemented.
Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law is unconstitutional.

“The Kentucky legislature was emboldened by a similar 15-week ban pending before the Supreme Court and other states passing abortion bans, including in Florida and Oklahoma," Amiri wrote in a statement. "We urge the court to block this law immediately and ensure that people in Kentucky can continue to access abortion care.”

Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville who voted against the bill , said the legislature is trying to regulate abortion access out of the state, predicting that maternal mortality rates in Kentucky will go up.

"It takes an amazing amount of audacity to assume that you know that you can make this decision for every woman," Berg said.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Nancy Tate of Brandenburg, the bill makes it harder for minors to get abortions by raising the standard for judges to sign off on the procedure without parental consent. The bill also requires an in-person examination to receive abortion medication and bans the medication from being sent through the mail.

The 15-week ban was originally filed as part of a different measure but was added into House Bill 3 shortly before it passed late last month.

The bill includes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In his veto message late last week, Beshear questioned the bill’s constitutionality. 

Earlier Wednesday, opponents to the bill gathered at the statehouse to protest the measure.

Maggie Murray drove to the Capitol from La Grange to protest the bill.

“Reproductive freedom is extraordinarily important to the welfare of any birthing people. If we cannot choose when we have children, we cannot control our working or going to school,” Murray said.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott was among the House members to vote to uphold the veto. 

“They are not about improving health outcomes,” she said. “HB 3 is nothing more than a feeble attempt at power, domination and control over people’s bodies.”

Scott added that family planning decisions are deeply personal and often difficult. 

“How you or I feel about abortion is irrelevant,” she said. “It is not our place to decide for someone whether or when they should become a parent.”

Republican Rep. Norma Kirk-McCormick, of Inez, said abortion is against her religious beliefs. 

“Every day we convene in this body, we open with the pledge and with prayer and we stand here in this body before a sign that says ‘In God We Trust,’” she said. 

“The abortion of a baby is plain wrong and I pray that God would have mercy on anyone that would take the life of a child. There’s no mercy on that baby in abortion.”

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

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