Kentucky Politics

Kentucky lawmakers advanced two anti-abortion bills on Wednesday — one would give the state’s new Republican attorney general more power to enforce abortion regulations, the other would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated after the procedure.

Both bills passed out of the legislature’s House Judiciary Committee while several abortion rights activists silently sat in the audience, donning white bonnets and red cloaks — a reference to the dystopian novel-turned-TV show, The Handmaid’s Tale.

House Bill 370, the fetal remains bill, is similar to a 2016 Indiana law that was challenged and ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Cathie Humbarger, an abortion opponent with Northeast Indiana Right To Life, spoke in favor of the bill.

“The abortion provider currently has to provide for the disposal. This is merely directing respectful disposal as opposed to being incinerated with other medical waste,” Humbarger said.

The measure would require abortion providers to either cremate or inter aborted fetuses in a licensed facility if parents don’t want to make the decision.

Kentucky has passed several abortion restrictions into law since Republicans gained control of the legislature for the first time in state history in 2017.

Many of those laws — like last year’s “heartbeat” abortion bill — have been temporarily blocked while lawsuits take place. Others — like the 2017 ban on abortions after 20th week in pregnancy — have not been challenged.

Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, said she was worried that women who experience miscarriages would be subject to the legislation.

“I think we would all agree that inflicting additional trauma on someone who had a natural miscarriage of a much-wanted child could certainly be something that would be an unintended consequence. I’m sure you don’t want this,” Minter said.

House Bill 451, the other measure passed on Wednesday, would give Kentucky’s attorney general more power to enforce abortion regulations.

Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington, said the measure was in line with the powers of the state’s “chief law enforcement officer.”

“Current law provides the attorney general takes action only if requested by the secretary for [the Cabinet for] Health and Family Services. This bill would like the attorney general to independently take action,” Lee said.

Kentucky’s new Attorney General Daniel Cameron is the first Republican to hold the office in more than 50 years.

Many of Cameron’s staff members worked in former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s legal team, defending abortion restrictions in several high-profile legal battles and attempting to close the state’s only abortion facility.

Kentucky’s new Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has taken a different stance on abortion than his predecessor. Since taking office in December, he ended the state’s licensure battle with abortion providers and allowed Planned Parenthood to begin offering abortions at a facility in Louisville.

Both measures that passed on Wednesday are now eligible for a vote in the full House of Representatives.

There are at least eight other anti-abortion bills being considered by the legislature this session.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.