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Supreme Court Decision Would Trigger Near Total Abortion Ban Under Kentucky Bill

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
US Capitol police officers line-up in front of pro-abortion rights demonstrators who temporarily halted the annual March for Life, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, at the Supreme Court in Washington.

Kentucky lawmakers granted preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would automatically criminalize most abortions in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court walk back its longstanding Roe v. Wade decision.

"Absolutely, unequivocally yes."

"Emphatically no."

That's a sampling of the responses House Bill 148 won during vote in the House Judiciary Committee, where several lawmakers spoke about the landmark 1973 high court ruling establishing a woman's legal right to an abortion as if it were already poised for defeat.

"Already we're seeing various states, which are the laboratories of democracy, enacting laws dealing with abortion in anticipation of the repeal of Roe v. Wade," Republican Rep. Joe Fischer told colleagues. "The message is this: If you restore our authority, we will protect every unborn child in this commonwealth."

Under HB148, the moment the Supreme Court opts to overturn, performing or otherwise intentionally causing an abortion in Kentucky would become a Class D felony, punishable by 1-5 years behind bars.

"It would only involve the person who performs the abortion," the Campbell County Republican explained. "Women are not prosecutable under this bill."

It would, however, cover pregnancies from the fertilization to birth. And Tamarra Wieder with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky foresees the near total ban, which includes an exception for cases where the life of the mother is at stake, leading to worsening health outcomes, and even deaths, if women seek unsafe abortions.

"I think it's really interesting that Rep. Fischer dictated that he wanted to go back to law from 1910," she said. "This is going to take Kentuckians back to a time when reproductive healthcare was pratically non-existent."

Detractors noted the often complicated nature of Supreme Court decisions, questioning whether the bill clearly indicates what rulings would trigger the Kentucky ban. Others said the measure jumps the gun.

"Roe v. Wade is precedent. It is law. I don't see them overturning such important healthcare with such flippancy that we heard discussed today in committee," Wieder added.

Fischer disagreed, saying, "If (President) Trump has the opportunity to appoint another justice, then they may take up this issue."

HB 148 is part of a spate of anti-abortion bills under consideration this session, one of which would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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