With Kentucky embroiled in three abortion-related court cases and lawmakers considering tougher restrictions almost certain to draw a legal challenge, a leading Republican senator said Thursday that he hopes the state's actions lead to a Supreme Court review of the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Anti-abortion lawmakers hope to push more abortion-related bills through the legislature — led by a proposed ban on most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs around six weeks of pregnancy. The state already is defending three abortion-related laws in court, and the American Civil Liberties Union says it will challenge the fetal heartbeat bill if it becomes law.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he was unconcerned by the threat of another lawsuit or the cost of more litigation: "I don't think you can put a price on the life of the unborn."
Thayer said he hopes Kentucky's aggressive anti-abortion laws eventually lead the U.S. Supreme Court to review the legal standard set in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which prohibits states from banning abortions before viability.
"Absolutely, I would be proud if it's Kentucky that takes it all the way up to the Supreme Court and we challenge Roe v. Wade," Thayer told reporters after an anti-abortion event at the state Capitol. "That would be absolutely the pinnacle of my career in the legislature."
The fetal heartbeat bill, a priority for many Republican lawmakers, will come up when the legislature reconvenes in early February. Lawmakers head home Friday after this week's opening four days, spent mostly on organizational matters and bill introductions.
Abortion-rights advocates said Thursday that the heartbeat bill would be another intrusion by lawmakers into a highly personal decision that should be left to women and their families.
"What's happening here in Kentucky is part of a nationwide strategy by anti-abortion politicians to eliminate all access to abortion at any point in a pregnancy, regardless of your circumstances," said Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky.
ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri has said the heartbeat bill is "blatantly unconstitutional" and will be challenged in court if it becomes law.
Kentucky's fetal heartbeat bill is at odds with the legal standard set by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which prohibits states from banning abortions before viability. But the Kentucky proposal is among a series of measures introduced by abortion opponents who hope the Supreme Court will be more receptive to limiting abortion rights now that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key vote to preserve abortion rights, has retired.
Kennedy was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Though Kavanaugh's record on abortion is limited, he did vote as a federal appeals court judge in 2017 in favor of delaying an abortion for a pregnant immigrant teenager in federal custody.
Kentucky Republican state Rep. Joseph Fischer said Thursday that abortion opponents should pray for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to "bolster our federal judiciary" with more judges willing to strike down the Roe v. Wade ruling.
"We have met resistance from the courts," Fischer said at a state Capitol event attended by dozens of Kentucky lawmakers who oppose abortion. "They continue to block our progress. But with God's grace, we will not grow weary from this battle."
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have aggressively pushed bills to restrict abortion since consolidating their hold on the legislature starting in 2017. Two abortion-related laws have been struck down in the courts. Gov. Matt Bevin's administration has appealed in both cases.
One of those laws, enacted in early 2017, had required doctors to perform ultrasounds and show and describe the ultrasound images to pregnant women, who could avert their eyes.
Another legal challenge arose over Bevin's interpretation of another law — passed about two decades ago — that required a Kentucky abortion clinic to have written agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies. Bevin's administration actions had threatened the state's last abortion clinic, EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville.
In a third case, lawyers for Bevin's administration and the ACLU argued at a late 2018 trial over a lawsuit challenging a state law aimed at a common second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies. The law remains suspended pending a ruling by a federal judge.