FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers on Wednesday started advancing a bill to ban most abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision legalizing the procedure nationwide.
The measure, which easily cleared the House Judiciary Committee, would take effect in Kentucky if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned or the U.S. Constitution is amended to restore states’ authority to prohibit abortion.
“House Bill 148 will serve as a message from the people of Kentucky to the United States Supreme Court. And the message is this: if you restore our authority, we will protect every unborn child in this commonwealth,” said Republican Rep. Joe Fischer, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The bill’s opponents said that overturning Roe v. Wade and imposing a statewide abortion ban would not stop women from undergoing the procedure, but would greatly increase the risks.
Retired obstetrician-gynecologist Kenneth Zegart told the committee that he saw women rushed to hospital emergency rooms decades ago after undergoing non-clinical abortions before abortions became legal. Some of the women died, he said.
“Let me be clear, no matter what law you pass, you will not prevent abortions from happening,” abortion-rights activist Annie Prestrud told the committee. “But you, each legislator who votes for these laws, will increase the risk to people who choose to have an abortion.”
The bill next goes to the full Kentucky House, which has passed abortion restrictions in the past two years since Republicans took control of the chamber.
Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota have similar laws on the books triggering abortion bans if the Roe v. Wade decision is struck down.
The Kentucky proposal would ban abortions statewide, except when the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life, if the abortion decision is reversed.
It would provide full legal protection for the unborn from fertilization to birth, Fischer said.
The bill proposes making it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by 1-5 years in prison. Pregnant women undergoing abortions would be exempt from prosecution. There would be no violation if medical treatment resulted in the unintentional death of a fetus. There also would be no violation for prescribing the “morning after” pill, Fischer said.
Opponents questioned the need for the bill with its trigger mechanism when there’s no certainty if or when the Supreme Court will take up another abortion case. The court, in a 5-4 vote, recently blocked Louisiana from enforcing new abortion regulations.
“I want to be on the stand-by list,” Fischer replied, noting there are many cases “percolating” in federal courts that could reach Supreme Court.
Opponents said the measure would loom as a government intrusion into pregnancy-related decisions that are personal, sometimes complicated and should be left to the woman.
“These continued attacks on people’s fundamental rights to control their bodies are an attack on the bedrock American principle that all are created equal,” Prestrud said.
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have aggressively pushed anti-abortion legislation since the GOP took total control of the legislature in 2017. Another bill being considered in this year’s session would ban most abortions in Kentucky once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks of pregnancy.
The legislation is House Bill 148.