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Kentucky Republicans push ban on abortion procedure they call 'cruel and gruesome'

Jack Brammer, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in News & Features

FRANKFORT, Ky.--A proposal in the Kentucky legislature would ban a common form of abortion for women who have been pregnant for 11 or more weeks, a change opponents say would force many women to undergo a procedure that is more costly, takes longer and involves a hospital stay.

House Bill 454 would prohibit an abortion procedure called "dilation and evacuation" 11 weeks or later into a pregnancy except in medical emergencies. Doctors generally use the procedure in the second trimester.

State Rep. Addia Wuchner, who sponsored the bill, said the abortion procedure is "cruel and gruesome" and involves the dismemberment of a human fetus. At 10 week of pregnancy, an ultrasound can show the hands, arms, legs, fingers, toes, ears and feet of an unborn baby, she said.

The procedure involves the dilation of the cervix and surgical evacuation of the contents of the uterus, often used as a method of abortion and a therapeutic procedure after miscarriage to prevent infection by ensuring that the uterus is fully clear.

Kentucky Right to Life, which supports the measure, said it would "preserve the dignity of the DNA-designed fetus."

The ACLU of Kentucky said the bill would bring government interference into the lives of women and points out that similar bans on abortions have been blocked by courts in five states -- Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama.

Democratic Rep. Tom Burch predicted it will cost Kentucky taxpayers about $1 million to defend the measure from a possible lawsuit.

The bill awaits consideration by the full House. The House Judiciary Committee approved it Wednesday on a 13-4 vote.

Brian Shoemaker, assistant executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said the bill is worded differently from other states that have run into legal problems with their ban.

"We are stressing that this does not outlaw abortions. We are just saying that this particular brutal type of procedure for abortions should be banned," said Shoemaker.

Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the abortion procedure the bill addresses was used in 537 of the 3,312 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2016.

Wuchner dismissed claims that the bill will create significant obstacles to women seeking an abortion during the second trimester.

"Women in the commonwealth would not face substantial obstacles as several other procedures remain available for women who elect to terminate their pregnancy," she said. "Medical abortions up to 10 weeks gestational age, Dilation and Curettage-suction abortions, and induction abortions are procedures that women may utilize during the second trimester up to 20 weeks gestational age."

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Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, who works at the University of Louisville, disagreed with Wuchner. The bill would "hurt her patients," especially those with little money, requiring some of them to undergo a more costly abortion procedure that involves a stay in the hospital.

"The decision to terminate a pregnancy should be made solely by each individual woman in consultation with those she trusts the most, including people like me, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and not politicians," said Hoffman.

Under the bill, abortion providers found in violation would be guilty of a Class D felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.

In testimony this week before the House committee, Kate Miller, advocacy director for the state ACLU, said the U.S. Supreme Court for decades "has made clear that it is unconstitutional to ban the most common method of second trimester abortion."

She said HB 454 "prevents physicians from using their best medical judgment when providing options to a pregnancy, including abortion" and will lead to "costly litigation."

Dr. Lynda Sanders, a Lexington neonatologist, told the panel of lawmakers it was "exceptionally cruel" to dismember a fetus. She said "those unborn babies are Kentucky citizens as much as you and I are."

The Kentucky legislature last year approved two bills to curb abortions. One prohibited abortions in the state at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life is in danger. The other required physician or technician to perform an ultrasound, describe and display the ultrasound images to the mother, and provide audio of the fetal heartbeat to the mother before she may have an abortion.

The ultrasound law was challenged, and a federal judge last September struck it down. The state has appealed.

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