Republican lawmakers in Kentucky wasted no time after returning to work this week fast-tracking anti-abortion legislation that would restrict women’s access to the procedure in the state.
Hours after the 2017 legislative session opened Tuesday, two measures were introduced. The first, in the House, would require abortion providers to conduct an ultrasound on women seeking an abortion and then show or describe the image to the women. Similar ultrasound bills have been introduced before in Kentucky, but never managed to make it out of committee until Wednesday. House Speaker Jeff Hoover told the Courier-Journal he was confident the House would pass the bill later this week.
Supporters of the ultrasound bill say that it allows women considering an abortion to make a fully informed decision that is “an important, and often a stressful one,” the text of House Bill 2 reads. “It is desirable and imperative that it be made with full knowledge of its nature and consequences.”
Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights advocates criticize ultrasound requirements for having “the compound effect of making a woman feel ashamed, and [adding] additional costs to a safe and legal procedure.” An ultrasound is not medically necessary for getting a first-trimester abortion.
The second anti-abortion bill, introduced in the state’s Senate, would ban abortion after 20 weeks, long before the fetus is viable. Supporters of 20-week bans contend that is the point when fetuses can feel physical pain, although this claim is unsubstantiated by medical evidence.
Sen. Robert Stivers said he too is confident the Senate will pass its bill later this week.
“This is my belief: there are two viable beings involved,” Stivers said. “One had a choice early on to make a decision to conceive or not. Once conception starts, another life is involved, and the legislature has the ability to determine how that life proceeds.”
Neither of the Kentucky measures are unique. At least 25 states have some type of ultrasound requirement in place, according to the non-partisan Guttmacher Institute. Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin currently force abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and describe or show the image to a woman before performing an abortion. And at least 15 other states have laws in place banning abortions after 20 weeks; most recently, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a 20-week abortion ban into law after months of controversy.
A second measure proposed in the Senate Tuesday would prohibit any public funding for organizations that perform abortions — namely, Planned Parenthood. Taxpayer dollars are already prohibited from paying for abortions; the money Planned Parenthood receives from the government funds other types of reproductive health services.
Kentucky Republicans won a majority in the House in November’s elections, which gave the party full control over the state government for the first time since 1921.
In 2016, nineteen states passed 60 laws restricting abortion, according to a report from the Center for Reproductive Rights.