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Ky. Democrats refuse vote on bill that prescribes counseling for nonviable pregnancies

Republican Rep. Nancy Tate describes her bill to encourage the use of perinatal palliative care programs.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Republican Rep. Nancy Tate describes her bill to encourage the use of perinatal palliative care programs.

Democrats refused to vote on a bill that would require providers to refer parents facing non-viable pregnancies to programs that encourage families to create memories with a fetus that has no chance of survival.

Three Democratic women walked out of the House Human Health Services committee in protest of legislation they say shames women who choose to terminate non-viable pregnancies rather than carry them to term.

“Frankly, I view this as a personal attack,” said Rep. Lindsey Burke, who recently revealed she had chosen to terminate a pregnancy because of medical complications.

Democratic Representatives Rachel Roarx, Lindsey Burke and Adrielle Camuel return to their seats after walking out on discussion of a bill to encourage perinatal palliative care in Kentucky.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Democratic Representatives Rachel Roarx, Lindsey Burke and Adrielle Camuel return to their seats after walking out on discussion of a bill to encourage perinatal palliative care in Kentucky.

House Bill 467 would require hospitals to recommend women diagnosed with nonviable pregnancies to perinatal palliative care programs that encourage families to spend time and create memories with a fetus that has no chance of survival as they carry the pregnancy to term.

Unless women go out of state or the mother’s health is in imminent danger, that is a woman’s only choice in Kentucky. That’s been the case since the state instituted its near total abortion ban after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Doctors say the programs are already an option for women — but are not necessarily the best choice for some. And some advocates say it would discourage doctors from giving women all of their options, including traveling out of the state to terminate the pregnancy.

Reps. Rachel Roarx and Adrielle Camuel joined Burked in leaving the meeting and declining to vote on the bill. They said the measure is a “slap in the face” to women who have faced non-viable pregnancies and are seeking the full scope of care.

“Rather than providing [pregnant women] with the full scope of medical treatment that they need, it guilts them into following a proscriptive plan,” Burke from Lexington said. “We can’t reason with this, so we’re going to step out [of the hearing].”

The legislation would require all hospitals and birthing centers to refer patients to “perinatal palliative care” options, either those provided at the institution or elsewhere. The legislation requires those programs include emotional guidance, education and support, and help the families create “memories and keepsakes” with the non-viable fetus.

The bill’s preamble reads, “Although a profoundly sad period, perinatal palliative care can assist pregnant mothers in crafting a birth plan for an expected end-of-life birth that allows them to parent their babies and orchestrate the precious time surrounding their babies' entrance into the world.”

It also requires insurance to cover perinatal palliative care.

As he voted “yes” on the bill — which passed unanimously in the Thursday committee hearing — GOP Rep. Ryan Dotson from Winchester said it was an “atrocity” that the Democratic women chose not to vote on the bill.

“This is very important and I just want folks to understand we are protecting the health and life of these children,” Dotson said.

Addia Wuchner, the executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said the bill is about giving women options. She said a woman called her office to say she went out of state to terminate a non-viable pregnancy and regretted that decision and felt at the time it was the only one offered to her.

“She thought that was her only option, and that was heart-breaking, and when she called she was in tears,” Wuchner said.

She said she believed carrying a pregnancy to term and spending more time with the child can help the family.

Democrats say the bill does not add any services because it’s already part of a standard of care, but said it might chill the speech of doctors who would recommend other courses of actions for women in the difficult situation of deciding what to do with a nonviable pregnancy.

Burke and the other two Democratic women said dozens of women had contacted their office in fierce opposition to the bill.

“If [the sponsor] had talked with bereaved parents, she would know that when you experience something like this, the hospital offers you services just like she proposed,” Burke said. “This is not an alternative to exceptions [to the state’s near total abortion ban] and, frankly, it's really not good enough. It’s an insult to grieving parents everywhere.”

There are at least two specific perinatal palliative care programs in the state, but Burke said all hospitals provide this care. She said she believed the bill was not a legitimate attempt to improve healthcare for mothers or families.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends perinatal palliative care be presented as one option, alongside termination or early induced pregnancy. In a statement, a representative for the organization said the bill is “superfluous” and characterized it as a “solution in search of a problem.”

Tamarra Wieder, the Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood, said the bill would only continue to chill the speech of providers, who might otherwise recommend a woman travel out of state to obtain an abortion, especially if continuing to carry the pregnancy could have other health implications.

“They don’t want abortion to be part of the conversation anymore,” Wieder said. “There’s not a gag on it, but one of our concerns with this bill is it would put a chilling effect on providers.”

The bill, according to lead sponsor Rep. Nancy Tate, is designed to be an alternative to terminating a non-viable pregnancy. The Republican from Brandenburg said in an interview before the committee hearing she hoped the bill encourages women to spend time with the fetus, despite the sometimes extremely limited life span.

Wuchner with Kentucky Right to Life said she has no reason to believe perinatal palliative care is not currently covered by insurance, which the bill requires.

When asked if this is designed to discourage women from pursuing abortions for nonviable pregnancies, Wuchner said Kentucky has “already dealt with that issue.”

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.
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