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Kentucky lawmaker wants to bring murder charges against people who get illegal abortions

Abortion rights protesters walk through downtown Louisville on May 4, 2020.
Ryan Van Velzer
Abortion rights protesters walk through downtown Louisville on May 4, 2020.

Kentuckians could be charged with murder if they get an illegal abortion under a bill filed in the state legislature this week.

Republican Rep. Emily Calloway from Louisville introduced House Bill 300, which would penalize pregnant people for getting abortions that aren’t authorized under the narrow set of exceptions to Kentucky’s near-total ban on the procedure.

Under the measure, which Calloway named the Prenatal Equal Protection Act, an unlawful abortion “shall be subject to the same legal principles as would apply to the homicide of a person who had been born alive.”

According to the bill’s language, the homicide victim would be the “unborn child” and the defendant would be the pregnant person. The termination of the pregnancy for unlawful reasons would be considered an “intentional homicide.”

Kentucky currently bans abortions in all cases except when a pregnant person’s life is at risk. Under the new proposal, pregnant Kentuckians could be charged with murder for getting an abortion in life-saving situations and in the case of a “spontaneous miscarriage.” Exceptions for rape or incest are not included under the proposal.

Kentucky’s current scheme of abortion restrictions only criminalizes doctors who provide unlawful abortions.

Some Kentucky Republican officials spoke out against the bill after it was filed on Tuesday.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said in a statement that the legislature “has never passed a pro-life measure that did not take into consideration the necessity for any exceptions.”

“While we await the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling, we continue to have legitimate discussions on future policy. We anticipate additional legislation will be filed,including bills that will provide further exceptions,” Osborne wrote.

Since Republicans won control of both legislative chambers in 2017, the legislature has only included exceptions for abortions if a pregnant person’s life is at risk. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly refused to include exceptions for rape, incest and complicated or unviable pregnancies.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has defended Kentucky’s abortion restrictions in court, issued a statement saying the new proposal “strikes the wrong balance” and encouraged lawmakers to vote against it.

“While I strongly support prohibiting abortions in Kentucky, I just as strongly support helping pregnant women. Pregnant mothers deserve our help, support, and life-affirming options, not to face criminal charges,” he said.

The Kentucky Democratic Party denounced the proposal in a Tweet on Wednesday.

"Republican extremists are ramping up their assault on women. This GOP bill would allow women and girls to be sent to prison for getting an abortion. Kentuckians rejected their anti-choice agenda last year, but GOP extremists are doubling down on cruelty," a party spokesperson stated.

Kentucky voters rejected a referendum to add anti-abortion language to the state constitution last year.

Meanwhile,the Kentucky Supreme Court is still deliberating over the state’s near-total ban on abortion, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

Legislators have said they are waiting for a ruling in the case before proceeding with any new abortion restrictions or exceptions.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.