Kentucky lawmakers pass bill to ban abortion procedure after 11 weeks

Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-28 00:28:02-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- For the second straight year, Kentucky's Republican-led legislature passed a measure to impose abortion restrictions despite threats that the action will spark a court challenge.

The House finished work Tuesday on the bill to ban a common abortion procedure when women are at least 11 weeks into their pregnancies. The chamber voted 75-13 to send the measure to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a staunch abortion opponent.

With a handful of days left in this year's legislative session, lawmakers also finished work on a bill making the biggest changes to the workers' compensation system in more than 20 years.

The abortion measure, House Bill 454, would prohibit a procedure known as "dilation and evacuation" 11 weeks or later into a pregnancy, except in medical emergencies.

The bill's supporters call the procedure "gruesome."

Its opponents said it intrudes into the private medical decisions of women.

"This bill is going to cost taxpayers in Kentucky a load of money, and it's clearly unconstitutional," said Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville.

Opponents pointed to similar laws in other states that were struck down or blocked while legal challenges proceed. After the bill's final passage, American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky advocacy director Kate Miller said in a statement: "The ACLU will continue to fight back against extreme legislative attacks on Kentuckians' reproductive rights."

Kentucky's GOP has successfully pushed abortion-related measures since Bevin won the governorship and the GOP took complete control of the General Assembly.

Last year, lawmakers passed two abortion measures.

One required women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound. The other banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life is in danger. The ultrasound law was challenged and a federal judge struck it down. The state has appealed.

The new measure takes aim at a procedure that was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions done in Kentucky in 2016, according to state statistics.

Republican Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington said the unborn "need someone to speak for 'em." In past debates, the bill's supporters described the procedure in graphic terms.

"I'm voting 'yes' for all these little babies, because I can't think of anything more inhumane in a so-called civilized society than to actually dismember a child in the womb," he said.

In other action, the House completed action on the bill making changes to the workers' compensation system. The legislation — backed by business groups but opposed by organized labor groups — cleared the House on a 55-39 vote and now goes to Bevin.

A key part of the bill would put time limits on benefits for some injured workers.

The proposed 15-year benefit cap from the date of injury would apply to certain workers filing claims for permanent, partial disability because of on-the-job injuries.

Many of those workers eventually return to the labor force. Currently, they are entitled to medical benefits for the duration of the disability.

The bill would allow those injured workers to make recertification filings that, if approved, would let them continue receiving medical benefits. Opponents said that step would be an undue burden on workers seeking continuation of benefits.

"They call them 'permanent' disabilities for a reason," state AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan said in a statement. "If a worker's injuries are found to be permanent, then that is what they should be and not capped at 15 years."

Some opponents said House Bill 2 puts business profits over workers. They noted that workers' compensation insurance premiums paid by Kentucky employers have been dropping.

Rep. Robby Mills said the bill seeks to lower costs for small businesses. He and other supporters said those savings can be reinvested in workers and business operations.

"It's not that we are greedy, or it's not that we are big corporate America wanting to line our pockets," said Mills, a Henderson Republican. "We're just wanting to stay in business."

Under the bill, the most severely injured workers — considered permanently, totally disabled — would still receive lifetime medical benefits, supporters said.

Meanwhile, the House passed a bill that would require sex education classes in public schools to include abstinence education. The bill cleared the chamber on a 77-14 vote and goes back to the Senate, which will consider changes made by the House.

Senate Bill 71 says that if schools offer sex education classes, the instruction would include content that promotes abstinence as the "desirable goal" for all school-age children, and that it's the best way to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The measure says sex education instruction would have to include but not be limited to the abstinence content.