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Kentucky Senate passes fetal heartbeat abortion bill

February 14, 2019
April Lanham, center, undergoes a procedure in Frankfort, Ky., that allows the audience at a Kentucky legislative meeting to hear her unborn son's heartbeat, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 in Frankfort, Ky. Her appearance came shortly before a Kentucky Senate committee advanced a bill that would ban most abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected. (Tom Latek/Kentucky Today via AP)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers heard the beating heart of a woman’s unborn baby Thursday as they advanced a bill that would ban most abortions in the state once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The state Senate voted 31-6 to pass the measure, continuing an aggressive push to restrict abortion since Republicans consolidated their hold on Kentucky’s legislature starting in 2017.

Earlier Thursday when a committee reviewed the bill, a pregnant woman let a roomful of people hear the heartbeat of her unborn baby via an electronic monitor. The woman, April Lanham, who lives in the district of the bill’s lead sponsor, was at the witness table in the committee room.

“That child in her womb is a living human being,” Republican Sen. Matt Castlen, the bill sponsor, said later. “And all living human beings have a right to life.”

With Senate passage, the bill now heads to the House. The measure would require anyone seeking an abortion to first determine if a fetal heartbeat is detectable. If it is, the abortion would be banned. A fetal heartbeat can be detected about six weeks into pregnancy.

Kentucky is among several states where lawmakers are considering similar bills. Abortion opponents are pushing such proposals in an effort to challenge the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.

Anti-abortion groups believe their cause has been strengthened by President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Abortion-rights supporters warned Kentucky lawmakers Thursday that enacting the fetal heartbeat bill would trigger yet another legal fight over abortion.

“Each of you took an oath to uphold the Constitution,” Kate Miller, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told the Senate panel earlier Thursday. “This law is patently unconstitutional. The second it is signed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file a lawsuit. And much like the other laws you have passed, we expect that you will be held up in litigation unsuccessfully for years.”

The state already is defending three abortion-related laws in federal court.

Senators opposing the bill also warned the state would be stuck with another expensive legal tab in defending another measure they predicted won’t pass constitutional muster.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican who supports the fetal heartbeat bill, responded that lawmakers should avoid making such legal prognostications.

“Who sits on the Supreme Court determines what’s constitutional or not,” he said.

During the committee hearing Thursday, an obstetrician-gynecologist said the fetal heartbeat bill would essentially eliminate abortions in Kentucky. The measure would provide narrow exceptions for abortions, such as when the mother’s life is endangered. The doctor, Susan Bornstein, said the bill also would impose “unnecessary political interference in the practice of medicine.”

“No woman intentionally becomes pregnant in order to have an abortion,” she said. “The decision about whether to end a pregnancy or become a parent is one of the most important life decisions that we make. However, circumstances do occur under which women feel that they need to terminate their pregnancies. And history has shown that they will do so, whether it’s legal or not.”

Nicole Stipp, who also testified against the bill in committee, said it would be “forcing women back into the shadows for back-alley abortions that will kill them.”

The most powerful moment during presentations by the bill’s supporters came when Lanham came forward to allow people in the packed committee room to hear her unborn baby’s heartbeat. Lanham said afterward she did so because the heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” for lawmakers to hear before the vote. She said her pregnancy is 18 weeks along.

“Every life matters,” she told reporters.

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