Health Politics

 State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban most abortions in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark decision that legalized the procedure.

House Bill 148 would become state law if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. v. WadeThe 1973 decision banned states from restricting abortions before the fetus is viable — the point at which it could survive outside of the womb at around the 24th week of pregnancy.

Rep. Joe Fischer, a Republican from Ft. Thomas, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

“If you restore our authority, we will protect every unborn child in this commonwealth,” Fischer said at a committee hearing on Wednesday.

Legislators heard testimony from some people in opposition to the measure, including retired gynecologist Kenneth Zegart. One criticism of the bill, Zegart said, is it bans all abortions except when necessary to save the pregnant person’s life. It does not include exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, incest or for fetuses that would be not viable after birth.

Zegart said he is opposed to the bill, but that those exceptions are important to include. He said that during his training to be a doctor in the 60s, he would often see women come to the hospital with injuries from trying to obtain illegal abortions.

“I witnessed several women coming in the emergency room, bleeding profusely [because] they had attempted abortion by catheter, coat hangers, whatever method was used at the time,” Zegart said. “These women were ill, they were septic, and some of them died needlessly because of the laws at that time.”

Zegart also said the bill would interfere with a health provider’s ability to discuss all “reproductive health care” decisions with patients.

The bill cleared the House Judiciary on Wednesday and now moves on to the full House for a vote.

Other states are introducing similar legislation. Comparable measures have recently been introduced in Tennessee and Arkansas. South Dakota, North Dakota, Mississippi and Louisiana have existing laws that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The wave of bills aimed at restricting abortion access across the country follows the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Abortion-rights advocates fear that Kavanaugh would help overturn Roe v. Wade if a case to restrict abortion went to the Supreme Court. However, in December the Court declined to hear two cases that would have allowed states to take away funding from Planned Parenthood. Kavanaugh voted with a majority of justices in declining to hear the cases.

A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Kentuckians said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Thirty-six percent said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while seven percent didn’t know. Pew surveyed 439 Kentucky adults by telephone for the poll.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.