Republicans unveiled the content of a “pro-life omnibus bill” on Wednesday that seeks to further impede access to abortion in Kentucky, in part by tightening restrictions on parental consent for minors seeking the medical procedure.
Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, introduced some of the bill language to lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. She couched the proposal as a way of prioritizing health and safety of both the people seeking the medical procedure as well as their “human baby.” That includes making sure a teenager under the age of 18 understands the full scope of her decision to get an abortion, said Tate, who was flanked by Sue Liebel, state policy director of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Addia Wuchner, executive director of the Kentucky Right to Life Association.
In 2020, 4,104 abortions were performed across the commonwealth, according to the Department for Public Health’s Office of Vital Statistics. Of those 4,104 abortions, 366 were performed on people ages 15 to 19. Thirteen were performed on people under age 13.
Tate’s bill would require physicians performing abortions to obtain explicit parental consent or else “be subject to disciplinary action by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.” What’s more, any physician who “knowingly performs” an abortion on a minor without parental consent will be guilty of a Class D felony, the Republican lawmaker said of the bill. If the physician doesn’t realize their patient is a minor, they’d be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
“It is very important for us to make sure that these children have parental consent before they [make] such a life-altering medical decision,” she told the committee, adding that in K-12 schools, “we don’t even want our children taking aspirin without parental consent.”
But bill opponents from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates were quick to reject the need for such language; most areas affected by the bill are already heavily regulated, including parental consent for minors seeking abortions.
“The bills are rife with medical fallacies and outright untruths about abortion care,” Angela Cooper of the ACLU said.
A majority of teenagers getting abortions in Kentucky already tell a parent or guardian about the procedure, said Tamarra Wieder, state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. More importantly, the bill would not leave room for teenagers who live in abusive homes or who may have a strained relationship with their parent or guardians “who cannot safely disclose their pregnancies to their families,” she said.
Though physicians generally recommend teenage patients seeking an abortion speak with their guardians about their choice, national health care groups, including the American Medical Association, pointedly push back against “mandatory parental consent,” because of the potential to threaten the privacy and safety of vulnerable young people, Wieder said.
The AMA’s Code of Ethics makes clear, “when an unemancipated minor requests abortion services, physicians should not feel or be compelled to require a minor patient to involve her parents before she decides whether to undergo an abortion.”
Wieder added, “A lot of what we’ve heard today is fear-based and mongering, not based on medical practice.”
The omnibus bill, which Tate has yet to formally file, is the first Republican proposal for next year’s regular session aimed at further regulating and limiting access to abortion in the commonwealth. Late last month, Democrats pre-filed a bill that would enshrine the right to an abortion in Kentucky, though with a Republican supermajority in the House and Senate, the bill’s chances of gaining traction are slim to none. Still, it would nullify House Bill 91, which passed last session and would add language to the Kentucky constitution establishing that there is no guaranteed right to abortion in Kentucky. Residents will vote on the measure in a statewide referendum in November 2022.
Just over half of abortions performed in Kentucky last year were non-surgical, meaning patients who got an abortion did so with medication. The bill takes aim at this type of procedure by adding a series of oversight measures to track the distribution of such pills, first by creating an abortion-inducing drug certification program, which would require “all distributors, manufacturers, and physicians to become certified before handling aborting-inducing drugs.” Tate said it “would be very unfortunate for individuals to receive mail-order medication and not to receive advice from their doctors. They need to understand what the implications are.”
Tate’s bill package would also strengthen the protocol for transporting and disposing of fetal remains once an abortion is performed. Providers would have to acquire a permit to move the remains; each aborted fetus would need to be “cremated individually”; and parents would have greater flexibility in deciding “how to bury their child.”
“As a human baby, it should not be treated as medical waste,” Tate said.
But Wieder said it was a “blatant attempt to create shame and stigma,” particularly since “Kentucky law already extensively regulates the disposal of medical tissue, and health care providers, including those who perform abortions, always ensure tissue is disposed of in a safe and respectful manner.”