New Kentucky abortion clinics would have to meet more strict medical standards before they could open under a bill that has cleared a state Senate committee.
The bill would require abortion clinics to get a certificate of need from state regulators and meet standards of an ambulatory surgery center. The bill would apply to abortion clinics licensed after July 1. The state Legislature exempted abortion clinics from the requirements in 1998.
Derek Selznick with the ACLU of Kentucky said the bill is designed to shutter the state's few freestanding abortion clinics. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration supports the bill, saying the state needs power to regulate the clinics to keep the procedures safe.
The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a similar law in Texas.
On Monday, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds prior to abortions and to describe what's seen to the pregnant woman.
Bevin already signed into law a bill that updates the informed consent law requiring women seeking abortions be told of medical risks and benefits at least 24 hours beforehand. That bill gives patients and doctors the option of consultations in person or through real-time video. Its supporters say some doctors had patients listen to a recorded message on the phone with no interaction.
The ultrasound bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 32-4 vote and goes to the House next.
In past years, abortion-related bills often stalled in the Democratic-led House, but Republicans have been more forceful this election year in using procedural motions to try to force votes on some abortion legislation.
The ultrasound bill would require doctors to display the images so the pregnant woman may view them. The woman could choose to avert her eyes from the images without risk of penalty to her or the doctor.
The doctor would be required to provide a medical description of the images, including the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of internal organs, if seen. Doctors violating terms of the bill would be fined up to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $250,000 for subsequent violations.
Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, said the bill aims to prevent what happened to a friend and constituent of his years ago when she underwent an ultrasound before an abortion.
Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said that when his friend asked to see the ultrasound image, a nurse ignored her until finally saying it would be best not to do so.
"She regrets to this day not being able to see it, knowing now — feeling certain today — that had she been able to see it, had she been allowed to see it, she wouldn't have made the decision that she did," he said. "Regardless of everyone's position on abortion in this chamber, I think we can all agree that fewer is better."
Critics say the bill would intrude on the doctor-patient relationship. Derek Selznick, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said at a committee hearing that the bill "is about politicians trying to bully, shame and humiliate women" seeking abortions.
Other abortion-related bills under review this legislative session include banning the sale of fetal body parts and putting Planned Parenthood clinics at the end of the line for family planning funds.
In response to the abortion legislation, Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville has introduced a bill to require Kentucky men to visit a doctor twice and have signed permission from their wives before obtaining a prescription for Viagra or other such drugs for erectile dysfunction.