FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky Republican lawmakers on Thursday advanced a proposal to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy as the legislature considers enacting tougher restrictions on the procedure amid a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights.
The measure is modeled after a Mississippi law under review by the the nation's high court in a case that could dramatically limit abortion rights in the United States.
The Kentucky bill would be "immediately enforceable” without risk of legal challenge if the Mississippi law is upheld, said GOP Sen. Max Wise, the bill's lead sponsor.
Wise's measure easily cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, advancing to the full Senate. The bill would still need House approval if it clears the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
Kentucky law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Two states have enacted 15-week abortion bans — Mississippi and Louisiana, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. The Louisiana law hasn’t taken effect pending the outcome of the legal fight over the Mississippi law, the group said. Florida lawmakers recently passed a 15-week abortion ban. The governor there previously signaled his support for the proposal and is expected to sign it into law.
In Kentucky, GOP lawmakers have continued their push to put more restrictions on abortion.
Last week, the Kentucky House passed a separate proposal to strictly regulate the dispensing of abortion pills. That measure would require women to be examined in person by a doctor before receiving the medication. About half of abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medication procedures. The bill has been referred to a Senate committee for review.
The bills continue aggressive efforts by Kentucky lawmakers to put restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP assumed complete control of the legislature after the 2016 election.
The proposed 15-week abortion ban sparked impassioned discussion Thursday.
Democratic Sen. Karen Berg called the measure a “medical sham” and said the legislature's focus should be on alleviating poverty, including among women heading households. Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal said the state “has no business trying to regulate a woman's body.”
Republican Sen. Danny Carroll said he voted for the bill to “protect the rights of the unborn, and I make no apologies for that.” GOP Sen. Phillip Wheeler said the committee’s support for the measure was "very much in line with Kentucky values.”
GOP Sen. Stephen West said debate on the bill revolved around when the unborn reach viability.
“I always think if you’re going to err on the side of life or death, you always err on the side of life and giving these babies a chance to survive,” West said in supporting the bill.
Abortion-rights advocate Tamarra Wieder said the proposed 15-week ban amounted to “nothing more than political theater” in an election year by essentially duplicating previous efforts. Other stringent anti-abortion laws enacted in prior years by Kentucky legislators are stalled while winding through court challenges, said Wieder, Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.
Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life Association, countered that the bill is “another step forward ... in protecting those who do not have a voice for themselves, and that’s Kentucky’s unborn children.”