FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Doctors who don’t try to save the lives of infants born alive during abortions would face felony prosecutions and jail time under a bill advanced by Kentucky lawmakers on Thursday.
The bill won 32-0 passage in the Senate, hours after it was reviewed in committee. It’s the latest in a series of measures pushed by abortion opponents in this year’s legislative session.
The proposal would require doctors to provide all “reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining” care for an infant who survives an attempted abortion.
Violations would be a felony punishable by one to five years in jail. The requirement also would apply to nurses and other providers failing to give care.
“People tend to debate whether or not life begins at conception, as I believe that it does, but surely there can be no debate that life exists at birth,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield told the committee. “And we should darn well do what we can to protect those children.”
The measure also would ban the denial of nourishment to such infants.
The bill sailed through the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, and later the Senate, with bipartisan support. Some abortion-rights supporters didn’t speak at the committee hearing but voiced their concerns later. They said laws already exist to protect infants in the “extremely unlikely scenario” of a baby being born alive during an attempted abortion.
“There is no such thing as an abortion up until birth,” Tamarra Wieder, with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement. “This is inflammatory political rhetoric and simply untrue.”
Westerfield, the bill’s lead sponsor, told reporters he didn’t know if infants have been born alive in Kentucky during failed abortions, but said he’s heard of instances elsewhere, making the bill necessary.
“We’ve heard horror stories around the country where these babies have been left to die, or have been given ‘comfort food,’ as it’s called, and allowed to expire, which seems like an awfully gross, sanitized way of saying murder,” Westerfield said while presenting the bill in the Senate.
Only 1 percent of all abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Abortions during the final weeks are rarer still. Kentucky law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with a few exceptions, including if the mother’s life is in danger.
Asked by a reporter if doctors would have to take every medical step possible for a baby who was born alive but won’t survive, Westerfield replied: “If there’s a chance for the baby to survive, they’ve got to try to keep the baby alive.”
Westerfield indicated the care would be required, regardless of the parent’s wishes.
“What about the wishes of the child?” the Republican lawmaker said. “They’re both humans and they both should be given care.”
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have aggressively pushed to restrict abortion since the GOP took total control of the state’s legislature in 2017.
The highest-profile bill being considered this year would ban most abortions in Kentucky once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another would ban most abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.
The state already is defending three abortion-related laws in federal court.