Kentucky took a step closer toward preparing for a possible post-Roe v. Wade era on Friday.
The state House overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban most abortions in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.
The chamber’s 69-20 vote followed an hour-long debate and sent the measure to the GOP-led Senate. The legislation would take effect if the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is reversed or the U.S. Constitution is amended to restore states’ authority to prohibit abortion.
Lawmakers staked out their views on abortion during the emotionally charged debate.
“Not one of us, man or woman, has the moral authority to take the life of an unborn,” said Republican Rep. James Tipton. “There is no other medical procedure that I know of that the goal is to intentionally take the life of an unborn child.”
Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian said if the bill were to take effect, it would amount to government intrusion into the private medical decisions of women.
“It’s none of our business,” she said. “If you want to go have a colonoscopy, should we get ourselves involved in that? If you want to take Viagra, should we get ourselves involved in that?”
Anti-abortion legislators and activists around the country believe President Donald Trump has strengthened the push to topple the Roe v. Wade ruling with his appointments of conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Kentucky is among conservative states racing to enact strict abortion laws in hopes of triggering a legal challenge to the high court.
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.
Opponents of the Kentucky proposal said it’s premature to legislate for a post-Roe v. Wade era that might not happen.
“Lawmakers are not sent to Frankfort to legislate on hypotheticals,” said Democratic Rep. Patti Minter. “We should not be in the business of passing a bill now that may or may not be valid, depending on what might or might not get handed down by the Supreme Court.”
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes responded that it would be “irresponsible” for lawmakers not to have an abortion law ready to be triggered if the abortion ruling is overturned. A Supreme Court decision would likely come when Kentucky’s legislature isn’t in session, he said. Without a state law ready to take effect, it would leave access to abortions “wide open” in Kentucky, he said.
“So until we can get back together, the law on abortions in Kentucky will be the Wild West if we don’t pass this bill,” Nemes said.
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, said Republican Rep. Joe Fischer, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The bill proposes making it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by one to five 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.
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have aggressively pushed to restrict abortion 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. That bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Thursday , sending it to the House.
The state already is defending three abortion-related laws in federal court.
The legislation is House Bill 148.