Health Politics

Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature approved four anti-abortion measures this session, all of which were signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Bevin has signed several anti-abortion bills since he became governor in 2015 with nearly all of them struck down either temporarily or permanently in federal court.

During a rally at the Capitol earlier this month, Bevin — who’s also running for re-election — celebrated the anti-abortion measures being passed through the legislature and called himself the “most pro-life governor in America.”

During his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year, Bevin railed against other states for passing measures to expand abortions rights, including New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure to allow abortions at any point during pregnancy in order to save the life of the pregnant person.  

“As we have seen the horrific legislation that has come out of states like New York, that has been proposed in states like Virginia, it’s disgusting and I’m grateful for the fact that this state stands on the side of life,” Bevin said during his address in February. “And indeed, it’s not just simply saying it, its passing legislation in recent years.”

Here’s a roundup of abortion-related bills signed into law this year.

House Bill 5: Abortion ‘Discrimination’ Bill

Bans doctors from performing an abortion if they believe the patient is seeking the procedure because of the gender, race or disability of the fetus. North Dakota and Arizona have similar laws. The measure was signed into law earlier this month by Bevin. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately challenged it in court. A federal judge has blocked the law from going into effect while the lawsuit continues.

Senate Bill 9: The Fetal Heartbeat Bill

A ban on abortions at the point when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks. That’s earlier than some people first realize they are pregnant.  

Other states have passed similar laws, like Iowa in 2018. However, that law was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court in January of this year.

Bevin signed this measure into law, but the ACLU of Kentucky immediately filed suit to challenge it. A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the new law until the final ruling in district court.

Senate Bill 50: The ‘Abortion Reversal’ Bill

This measure requires doctors to tell patients seeking a medically-induced abortion that the procedure could be reversed. The measure was added to a bill that would require doctors to report all medically-induced abortions to the state. The measure was signed into law by Bevin. The ACLU has not filed suit to block the law but said it is monitoring implementation of it.

Research on the effectiveness of a so-called abortion a reversal is inconclusive. Medical professionals, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say the procedure is unproven and would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Other states including Idaho and Arizona have similar laws.

House Bill 148: A Ban On Abortion

This measure is known as a “trigger” bill. That’s because it would ban abortion in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized the procedure. Anti-abortion advocates in Kentucky and other states are hoping that a more conservative court will overturn the landmark decision.

The bill was signed into law Bevin. Opponents say a ban on the procedure would lead to people seeking illegal and unsafe abortions.  

Other Anti-Abortion Laws And Where They Stand

Transfer Agreement Law

A requirement that abortion clinics in Kentucky have agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in the case of a medical emergency. In September 2018 a federal judge  struck down the law, but the state appealed that ruling.

Earlier in 2018, the Cabinet for Health and Family Service said that Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic – the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville – didn’t have the right transfer agreements and tried to close the clinic. A judge signed an order to keep the clinic open until the case is settled in court.

Ultrasound Law

This law, passed in 2017, requires doctors to show and describe an ultrasound of the fetus to the patient before a pregnancy is terminated. The law was struck down in federal court, but the state appealed the decision.

Similar laws have passed in 14 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that gathers data about reproductive health. Courts have blocked the policies in two states other than Kentucky.

Second Trimester Law

This law, passed in 2018, banned a common second trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.” The procedure was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions in 2016, according to state data. During debates over the measure, the bill’s supporters called the procedure “gruesome.” The ACLU sued and a judge heard arguments in November 2018. The law has been blocked while a final ruling is still pending.

20-Week Abortion Ban

In 2017, Bevin signed Senate Bill 5, banning abortions after the 19th week in pregnancy. It has not been challenged in court.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.