Kentucky Republican Proposes Exceptions to State's Strict Abortion Ban

Democratic lawmaker files bill to restore access to abortion, though doubts it will get a hearing.

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click to enlarge A protester joins a pro-choice rally in Covington on Oct. 8, 2022. - Photo: Sean Peters
Photo: Sean Peters
A protester joins a pro-choice rally in Covington on Oct. 8, 2022.

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, filed a bill Feb. 22 that would add exceptions for rape and incest to Kentucky’s near-total ban on abortion.

House Bill 569 also would allow for abortion when “necessary” — defined as when “there is reasonable medical judgment that there is definitive evidence that the unborn child the pregnant woman is carrying has an abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb of the mother.”

Another exception would be if “the physician reasonably believes the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest” up to 15 weeks.

A doctor would need to put these facts in writing before performing an abortion as well, according to a draft of the bill.

When the United States Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion last summer, it allowed Kentucky’s “trigger law” to take effect, which banned abortion immediately.

Earlier on Feb. 22, a Democratic lawmaker proposed legislation that would restore abortion access in Kentucky.

Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, acknowledged the difficulty in getting her bill heard.

The Republican supermajority is “not interested in bipartisanship,” she said while criticizing the lack of Democratic bills heard this session.

“I have no reason to think this will go different,” she said, “even though the people of Kentucky have been very clear how they feel on this issue.”

Her legislation states that, among other things: “Every individual has a fundamental right to choose or refuse to bear a child or obtain an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus, or to protect the life or health of the pregnant person,” according to a draft of the bill.

“As someone who loves children and has been trying to become a mother for several years, I’ve had my eyes opened to the reality that abortion is an integral part of reproductive health care,” Burke told reporters.

People behind her, meanwhile, held signs that said: “Bans off our bodies” and “Abortion is healthcare.”

“The bill does not venture into new territory,” Burke said. “It simply restores us to the laws that were here for the majority of the late 20th century…”

Burke also pointed to Kentucky’s maternal mortality rates and the high number of children in foster care and promised her bill would offer some “balance.”

Co-sponsor Lamin Swann, D-Lexington, said that “enforced pregnancy affects disproportionately those who are struggling financially, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the undocumented, young people and the LGBTQ community.”

Supreme Court Ruling

Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to uphold an injunction that had briefly reinstated access to abortion in the state.

That means the commonwealth’s six-week abortion ban will remain in place as the case is litigated.

The high court decision came more three months after arguments on the issue were heard on Nov. 15. Under it, EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood in Louisville cannot resume abortion services at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Tamarra Wieder, the director of Kentucky’s Planned Parenthood Alliance, said the group is still analyzing the decision.

“The Supreme Court did leave the doors open for us to go back and fight tomorrow and that’s what we’re going to do,” Wieder said. “Our doors at Planned Parenthood stay open. Our priority is to start providing abortion care again. And so we are looking forward to going back to court.”

This story was originally published by the Kentucky Lantern and republished here with permission.

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