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Reproductive rights panel shares concerns about Kentucky’s abortion bans

Democratic Sen. Karen Berg, of Louisville, was among four to speak about negative consequences of abortion restriction. She's pictured here during the legislative session in February.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg, of Louisville, was among four to speak about negative consequences of abortion restriction. She's pictured here during the legislative session in February.

Democratic Kentucky Sen. Karen Berg joined reproductive rights advocates Tuesday to share concerns about what looming abortion restrictions in the state could mean for patients and families. 

The panel, hosted by the grassroots group “No Laws in Our Bodies,” also included Maria Sorolis, an attorney with experience in privacy issues, and two commonwealth residents. 

The group spoke of consequences stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which set in motion the state’s trigger ban.

That law, which is currently blocked in a Jefferson County Circuit Court – along with a 2019 ban on abortions at six weeks – makes it a class D felony for anyone to perform abortions in the state. There is a narrow exception that allows abortions to save the life of the pregnant patient, or to prevent the permanent impairment to a life-sustaining organ. 

There are other pending measures that could come into play restricting abortion care. House Bill 3, which lawmakers passed earlier this year, regulates abortion medication, makes it harder for minors to get abortions and blocks services at 15 weeks. A federal judge ruled last week to allow enforcement of the 15-week ban, though other parts of the law are still blocked. 

Berg, a Democrat from Louisville who’s a doctor, said during the panel that the restrictions could prevent patients from receiving routine medical care.

She said this includes common medications – like those for autoimmune disorders – that could lead to a high-risk pregnancy or harm a fetus. 

“You have a conflict potentially between the life and health of the mother and the continuation of a [pregnancy],” she said. 

Berg also said she worries about the impact on birth control access, adding that most birth control works after sperm has met the egg. Under Kentucky’s trigger law, abortion is banned at that point. 

She said patients may be delayed treatments in emergency rooms when physicians, unclear on what they can do under the laws, don’t act quickly to perform abortions. 

“We have no guidance for physicians as to how they proceed in this situation, and what type of documentation they're going to be required to show that this was an emergency procedure for life-saving purposes,” she said. 

Sorolis, the attorney, said forcing people to carry unwanted or unsafe pregnancies to term can lead to poor health and life outcomes, both for the children and parents. She said issues could be raised about financial responsibility in these cases. 

“If a child is born after a forced pregnancy and turns out to be incredibly medically fragile and requires emergency room, ICU, NICU services, who's going to pay for that?” she said. “What if this person does not have insurance?”

Panelist Kate Turner said the restrictions make her worry about her family planning, and how it might impact in vitro fertilization, or IVF, options in the state. She said she’s considering going out of state to freeze her eggs for that care. 

“Because I’m afraid that when I am ready to become a parent, there will not be a doctor in the state who can actually complete the procedure,” she said. 

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry temporarily blocked Kentucky’s trigger ban and six-week ban last month. He’s expected to rule soon on a temporary injunction, which would block the laws for the duration of the case. 

Both parties in the case filed additional information Monday. Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s filings included a motion for the judge to deny the injunction. 

He said the measures “reflect Kentucky’s commitment to protecting unborn life.”

“Every day that these laws are prohibited from taking effect, elective abortions will continue and more unborn lives will be lost,” Cameron said in a statement. “We’re asking the court to reinstate the laws while the litigation continues.”

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

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