Kentucky Legislation Would Give GOP Officials More Power to Close Abortion Clinics: Spotlight on the States (Updated)

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Roundups Law and Policy

Kentucky Legislation Would Give GOP Officials More Power to Close Abortion Clinics: Spotlight on the States (Updated)

Dennis Carter

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have mounted a legislative blitz to create more hurdles for abortion patients.

Every week, Rewire.News highlights trends in abortion-related legislation moving through the states, and how those bills might affect abortion access. This week, we report on Kentucky legislation that would make it easier to shutter abortion clinics, a myth-based Mississippi bill, and Ohio Republicans’ push to outlaw telemedicine abortions.

UPDATE, April 27, 2020, 11:06 a.m.: On Friday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) vetoed SB 9, a “born-alive” bill that would also have given regulatory authority over abortion clinics to the state’s anti-choice attorney general. With the legislative session over, the Republican-majority Kentucky General Assembly won’t have the opportunity to override Beshear’s veto.

Kentucky 

Kentucky Republicans have introduced eight anti-choice bills this session, despite the potential veto of Gov. Andy Beshear (D), and three of them advanced out of committee last week. Two of those bills are aimed at empowering Republican state officials to circumvent the Beshear administration and hassle abortion clinics with regulatory enforcement.

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As pro-choice protesters looked on, the Kentucky House judiciary committee approved two anti-choice bills last Wednesday: HB 370, requiring fetal tissue burial or cremation, and HB 451, which would give the state attorney general increased power to enforce onerous regulations created to shut down abortion clinics.

Currently, the attorney general can only take enforcement action with the authorization of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services—a state agency now in Democratic hands after Beshear’s election last November. But the bill would allow Attorney General Daniel Cameron—an anti-choice Republican who signed an amicus brief in January asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law in June Medical Services v. Russo—to investigate and penalize clinics without needing the permission of anyone in Beshear’s government.

Beshear’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, tried to close down the state’s only abortion clinic and engaged in protracted legal battles after denying a license to allow Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky to perform abortions at its Louisville location. Not long after taking office in December, Beshear rescinded that denial and granted the Planned Parenthood clinic a provisional license; when it begins offering abortion care this month, it will become the state’s second abortion provider.

“HB 451 raises significant legal questions and seems to be nothing more than a power grab by the new [attorney general], seeking to abuse the powers of his office to further his anti-abortion agenda,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky wrote in a letter to the judiciary committee.

Meanwhile, HB 391, which would empower the state auditor to investigate whether abortion clinics are following existing requirements to report abortions to the state’s Office of Vital Statistics, passed the house committee on health and family services last Thursday. Democratic lawmakers questioned why state auditor Mike Harmon—a Republican—would take on the role of auditing reports by private clinics. “I’m not clear where the auditor’s office has a place to investigate institutions that do not get any state dollars,” Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) said, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. Rep. Tom Burch (D-Louisville) asked if HB 391 was just another “method of harassing providers” in Kentucky.

Ohio

Ohio is one step closer to joining 18 states that outlaw medication abortion via telemedicine after the Republican-held state senate passed SB 260 last Wednesday.

Two Republicans voted against the legislation, the Dayton Daily News reported. The bill now advances to the Republican-held house. If the telemedicine abortion ban clears both chambers, Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who is opposed to abortion rights, would likely sign it.

Violation of the law would be a felony for the medical provider.

In a telemedicine abortion, a patient visits a health center that may not have a clinician on staff. The patient videoconferences with a clinician at another location who can remotely authorize use of the two pills involved in a medication abortion. Abortions provided through telemedicine have been proven safe, even as anti-choice lawmakers and activists erroneously claim medication abortion is dangerous.

Mississippi 

Legislation based on anti-choice misinformation about why people seek abortion care passed a committee vote in Mississippi’s Republican-controlled state house last Tuesday.

HB 1295, sponsored by 12 Republicans and one Democrat, would outlaw abortions based on a fetus’s sex, race, or a genetic abnormality. With an exception for cases of a “medical emergency,” the abortion provider would face a felony charge and up to ten years behind bars. (The patient would not face a penalty.) The bill will now be debated in the full Mississippi House.

Nine states ban sex-selective abortions, two states ban abortions for reasons of race, and two states ban it for reasons of genetic anomaly, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Missouri is the only state that bans all three, as this Mississippi bill seeks to do; a similar Kentucky law was temporarily blocked in federal court the day after it was signed last year.

Legislation banning sex-selective abortions is largely based on the myth that Asian American people prefer sons over daughters, while anti-choice legislators use fetal abnormality bills to pit reproductive rights advocates against the disability rights community.

The Mississippi bill tries to frame these anti-choice restrictions as efforts against discrimination, extensively citing a “fearmongering” opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that described such prohibitions as necessary for “preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics”—a claim that Rewire.News‘ Imani Gandy refuted at the time, writing that “they are designed to tug at the heartstrings, but they do not actually protect vulnerable people.”