Local church leaders welcomed the signing of two state laws Jan. 9 that place tighter restrictions on abortions, hailing the measures as lifesavers that will help parents and their children.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said passage of the two pro-life bills “will provide solid pathways for commonsense protection of the child in the womb in a manner that also provides care to the mother.”
The archbishop also said the “passage of this legislation is the occasion for us to recommit ourselves to providing pastoral care to mothers who face problems related to their pregnancies.”
He said several agencies “stand ready to help,” including Opportunities for Life, an agency sponsored by Kentucky’s four bishops that provides a 24-hour hotline to assist women with difficulties related to pregnancy, as well as Catholic Charities and pregnancy help centers, such as the Little Way Pregnancy Resource Center in Old Louisville.
Kentucky’s new Republican-controlled House and Senate swiftly passed long-stalled abortion-related bills during the first week of the 2017 General Assembly Jan. 3 to 7. Governor Matt Bevin signed both measures into law on Jan. 9.
House Bill 2 (HB 2) will require a physician or qualified technician to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and show the screen images to her. The doctor or technician will be required to inform the mother what the images show, including any organs that are visible and the size of the fetus. The provider must also seek to detect the fetus’ heartbeat.
The measure allows the woman to refuse to view the ultrasound and she may ask the provider to mute the heartbeat if audible.
HB 2 passed the House with an 83-12 vote and moved through the Senate with a 32-5 vote.
Similar measures have languished in recent years in the House, where Democrats previously held the majority. For the first time since 1921, Republicans control Kentucky’s House of Representatives.
The 2016 election left Republicans holding a super-majority of both the House and Senate. Republicans now control 64 of the
100 available seats in the House and 27 of the 38 available seats in the Senate.
The other measure signed Jan. 9 is Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), which bans abortion 20 weeks after fertilization. Twenty-weeks post fertilization is approximately the stage when an unborn child is viable and can experience pain.
The ban would not apply to situations where there is a risk of bodily harm or the life of the mother is threatened.
SB 5 passed the Senate with a 30-6 vote and passed the House with a 79-15 vote.
Neither HB 2 nor SB 5 contain exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Kentucky joins about 25 states that have some type of ultrasound requirement prior to an abortion and about a dozen that have 20-week abortion bans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s website.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Jan. 9 related to the ultrasound bill.
Ed Harpring, the pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said that while the two pro-life measures would not end abortion, they “will help save lives.”
“The ultrasound bill has proven itself in other states based on the fact that the majority of women who see the image of their unborn child, will reconsider their abortion and choose life,” he said. Harpring said both HB 2 and SB 5 will help mothers and fathers “to pause, to take more time to consider the humanity of their growing child, and get past the initial elevated emotions associated with an unplanned pregnancy.”
Jason Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy arm of the state’s four bishops, said the passage of the ultrasound bill was “especially meaningful” for CCK staff members who have supported similar measures for the better part of a decade.
“It is seen as part of an effort to make sure that good, complete informed consent is happening” prior to an abortion, he said.
Hall said the state legislature may consider a third abortion-related restriction that would move to defund Planned Parenthood. No bill has been filed as of The Record’s press deadline.
The 2017 General Assembly resumes Feb. 7.