FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Republican-led Kentucky House voted Monday to ban a common abortion procedure when women are at least 11 weeks into their pregnancies, brushing aside warnings that the restriction would embroil the state in another legal fight on the issue.
House members voted 71-11 to send the bill to the Senate after an emotional debate. The bill's lead sponsor opened the debate by giving adults a chance to take children out of the galleries before delving into graphic details of the procedure she described as "brutal."
The measure would prohibit an abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation" 11 weeks or later into a pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. The procedure was used in 537 of 3,312 abortions done in Kentucky in 2016, according to state statistics.
"These lives are small and tiny but they are still human," Rep. Addia Wuchner said.
Opponents said it amounts to an intrusion into the private medical decisions of women.
"The people of Kentucky did not elect us to be judge and jury over private medical decisions," said Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville.
Wuchner, a Republican from Florence, said her bill would not take away abortion rights, noting that women would still have access to other abortion procedures.
"This measure is not an attempt to overturn Roe vs. Wade," she said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that affirmed abortion rights.
Abortion-rights activists say the bill would ban the most common method of second-trimester abortions and warned its passage would provoke a legal challenge. They said identical measures have been struck down in other states.
"A 'yes' vote means you are willing to waste taxpayer money and your constituents' money on a measure that is unconstitutional," said Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo of Lexington.
Responding to predictions that it would entangle the state in another abortion lawsuit, Republican Rep. Robert Benvenuti III said: "To that, I say bring it. Let's have that trial."
Another bill supporter, Republican Rep. Chris Fugate of Chavies, asked how anyone could "even think about suing the state or anybody else for taking up for life."
Marzian said it would lead to government interference in private medical decisions.
"If you're opposed to abortion, don't have one," she said. "But don't make it so difficult and so dangerous for people that may not believe the same way as you do."
If the bill becomes law, abortion providers found in violation would be guilty of a felony that carries up to five years in prison. Women undergoing such abortions would not face prosecution.
Kentucky's GOP has successfully pushed abortion-related measures since Republican Matt Bevin won the governorship and the GOP took complete control of the General Assembly.
In the opening days of last year's legislative session, lawmakers passed two abortion measures. One required women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound. The other banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother's life is in danger.
The ultrasound law was challenged and a federal judge struck it down. The state appealed.
In another case, the state's last abortion clinic is embroiled in a licensing fight that began when Bevin's administration claimed the facility lacked proper agreements with a hospital and an ambulance service in case of medical emergencies. The clinic filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the state from revoking its license. A trial was held last year but no ruling has been issued.
The legislation is House Bill 454.