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State Capitol

Kentucky Lawmaker Proposes Heartbeat Abortion Bill

  An eastern Kentucky lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban women from receiving abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which takes place as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

The proposal would be one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the country. Similar measures have failed to pass in other states or been struck down by courts.

Rep. Robert Goforth, a Republican from East Bernstadt, said he recognizes the bill will likely draw a legal challenge, but that he wants the legislature to take a conservative stand.

“When that baby’s heart’s beating, you have to recognize that is a life there. The only person that should be the author of life is God and not man,” Goforth said.

“How do we change things? We bring it to people’s attention. We show them where the people stand on issues.”

The proposal would make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion if there’s a fetal heartbeat unless the woman has a medical emergency that would otherwise lead to death.

Critics of the proposal say that at six weeks, many women don’t even realize they are pregnant yet and that the policy doesn’t provide exceptions for fetal anomalies or women who are victims of rape or incest.

Kate Miller, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected is too early to ban.

“That’s pretty close to when you would be missing your first period and from a practical perspective, many individuals don’t even know they’re pregnant at the six-week mark,” Miller said.

“The ACLU of Kentucky has very serious concerns when it comes to the constitutionality of this legislation and we will be monitoring it very, very, very closely in this upcoming legislative session.”

In the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court said states can’t abolish abortions before viability — the point at which a fetus can survive outside of the womb.

But anti-abortion advocates hope a newly configured U.S. Supreme Court can overturn the decision and are pushing for measures to undercut the ruling in legislatures across the country.

A federal court blocked a heartbeat abortion measure in Iowa after it passed into law over the summer. Outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a heartbeat abortion bill as one of his final acts last month.

Goforth said a challenge would be worth it.

“If it ends up in the courts, I am fully prepared to fight and stand up for what I believe in and that is protecting this innocent, unborn child,” Goforth said.

The legislative session starts on Jan 8.

The Kentucky legislature has passed several new abortion restrictions in recent years, including a ban on abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy, an ultrasound abortion requirement and a ban on an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Courts have temporarily struck down the ultrasound requirement and ban on “dilation and evacuation” abortions while lawsuits over the policies are pending.

A federal court also struck down Kentucky’s law requiring abortion clinics to have written agreements with a hospital and ambulance services in case of emergencies.

Goforth issued a news release saying he will make a “major political announcement” on Tuesday.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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