A new bill that would require Kentucky women to have an ultrasound before receiving an abortion has been assigned to the House Health and Welfare Committee.
But those who work at Kentucky’s two abortion clinics argue the proposal is redundant given their medical procedures.
The legislation is being proposed by Democratic state Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah and has bipartisan support from over 55 lawmakers.
A similar ultrasound bill easily passed the Republican-controlled state Senate last month, but hasn’t moved in the Democratic House.
Watkins, who is pro-life, says his measure’s aim is to provide women with more medical information before making a decision.
“We just want to make sure she has adequate information because that’s an important procedure,” he says. “A life hangs in the balance and they already perform ultrasounds anyway so we just want to make sure that she has one prior to the abortion, prior to be sedated to make sure that this is the best decision for her and she’s made the right decision.”
Under the proposal, health care providers who fail to perform an ultrasound would face misdemeanor charges and grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
There are only two certified abortion clinics in the state, one in Louisville and another in Lexington. Those facilities are the front lines of the abortion fight for both sides of the debate.
Watkins believes the bill will easily pass if it makes it to the House floor, but it faces an “uphill battle” in committee, he says. Medical professionals who work at the clinics tell WFPL an ultrasound is already part of their process.
“For health reasons we cannot do a procedure for someone if we don’t know what’s inside the uterus,” says Anne Ahola, who is executive director of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. “And it’s not because we want to make her life miserable it’s because the doctors need to. If somebody said that ‘I don’t want to have an ultrasound done’ we wouldn’t do her procedure.”
A representative for the clinic in Lexington told WFPL it is “typical” for a patient to receive an ultrasound before getting an abortion, but not as a state government mandate.
The bill would require physicians to describe the location of the fetus and age of gestation, in addition to telling the mother if a heartbeat is present. Watkins points out as a compromise it does not force patients to look at the ultrasound image.
It also requires that the state offer pregnancy-related material and information to women, both in print form and via a government web site.
Still, Democrats such as state Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville, have objections to the proposal. She says it is never a good idea for state government to intervene in medical procedures.
“I am always fearful when we start practicing medicine in the statuettes,” she says. “There’s always a temptation to do that, but it is never a good idea for the state legislature to mandate medical practices. We should leave—in all cases—that up between the patient and the doctor.”
At the beginning of this year’s legislative session several House Democrats filed a bill making it a felony for doctors not to consult with patients seeking abortions at least 24 hours prior. That legislation has stalled in committee to the displeasure of conservative Democrats and Republicans.
Political observers have also noted that this is a tough election year for Democrats in rural areas as the GOP looks to take control of the House. Watkins represents one of those Western Kentucky districts being targeted in the 2014 campaign cycle.
He says his proposal has nothing to with his re-election prospects, however.
“I would be offended if anyone thought I was not sincere in my beliefs,” he says. “I’ve been pro-life for all of my adult life and supported legislative and candidates, and I’ve been a member of Kentucky Right to Life for several years.”
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