House panel OKs requiring ultrasounds prior to abortions

January 5, 2017 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Abortion legislation stayed on a fast track Wednesday as Republicans flexed their expanded power to advance measures to ban abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require ultrasounds prior to the procedure.

The committee action — on just the second day of the 2017 legislative session — sets up potential votes in the GOP-led House and Senate as soon as Thursday on both bills.

If passed, the measures would then flip chambers for consideration.

The measure seeking to impose a 20-week abortion ban sailed through the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. It now goes to the full Senate.

Supporters said the measure is based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents characterized that as scientifically unsound.


Sen. Brandon Smith, the bill’s lead sponsor, referred to the procedure as “horrific.”

“We have a compelling state interest to try to protect unborn children at this stage of their development,” said Smith, R-Hazard.

Opponents included a pregnant woman who said her unborn baby has a potentially fatal condition. Heather Hyden expressed concerns the bill would limit her options if tests indicate her baby won’t survive. It could prompt her to terminate her pregnancy before 20 weeks, she said.

The bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect soon after being signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin if it reaches his desk. Bevin is an abortion opponent.

Tamarri Wieder, with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, said abortions mostly occur before 21 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions, she said, often have “complex circumstances” in which women and their doctors “need every medical option available.”

Smith said his bill would make exceptions to the 20-week ban when the mother’s life is in danger. But he said it does not include exceptions in cases of rape and incest, contrary to how the bill was characterized Tuesday when introduced.

Doctors violating the ban would face suspension, but pregnant women would not be punished.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee advanced the ultrasound bill after tense exchanges between abortion-rights advocates and Republican lawmakers supporting the measure. The measure now heads to the full House.

Supporters showed video of ultrasound procedures that showed fetal heartbeats. Opponents said the bill amounted to political interference in personal medical decisions.

“Why don’t we just trust women to know what’s best for them and for their bodies?” said Katie Martin, among abortion-rights advocates who spoke out against the legislation.

The quick progress for the ultrasound bill reflected changing political dynamics in the House.

Similar measures stalled in prior years when Democrats ran the House. Republicans assumed control of the chamber when this year’s legislative session opened Tuesday.


The ultrasound bill would require doctors to display the images so the pregnant woman may view them and explain what the ultrasound shows. The woman could choose to avert her eyes from the images without risk of penalty to her or the doctor.

Doctors violating terms of the measure would be fined up to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $250,000 for subsequence violations.

In backing the bill, Republican Rep. Robert Benvenuti of Lexington said: “To have true informed consent, you must have all the information. ... Where else in our medical procedures do we say less information is better?”

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, countered that lawmakers speaking up for the bill don’t know “one thing about what goes through a woman’s mind” when deciding to seek an abortion.