Tennessee voters will have a chance this November to decide whether they want to give the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions.
In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court struck down laws requiring a two-day waiting period and mandatory physician-only counseling and preventing second-trimester abortions from taking place anywhere but in a hospital.
In its ruling, the court wrote that because the provisions weren't narrowly tailored to promote maternal health, they violated a woman's fundamental right to privacy as guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution.
Abortion opponents immediately began planning to change the Constitution. The result is an amendment that reads, in part, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion," that will be before voters on Nov. 4.
A pro-choice religious group says a Kentucky-based abortion counseling center is using misleading tactics to dissuade women from getting the procedure.
The Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice led 40 protesters over the weekend in a demonstration against downtown Louisville’s “A Woman’s Choice Resource Center.” KRCRC president Caitlin Willenbrink says the counseling center is one of 100 similar faith-based anti-abortion organizations that use false science .
“They also give out a lot of information that isn’t credible, like information that draws a link between abortion and breast cancer or abortion and mental health issues,” said Willenbrink. “That’s not supported by credible science.”
Willenbrink designed the protest, she says, to draw attention to the issue in advance of the National Right-to-Life Conference, which will be held at the Kentucky International Convention Center this weekend.
Three bills that would place more restrictions on abortion access in Kentucky have been rejected in party-line votes.
The House Health & Welfare Committee voted down two similar bills that would require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions and penalize doctors who don’t comply. The committee also rejected a measure requiring women to meet in person with their doctor prior to obtaining an abortion.
Derek Selznick is executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project. He says the mandatory ultrasounds would be traumatic to a woman who conceived a child after being raped.
“While a doctor or somebody is actually holding a transvaginal wand inside of a woman and must explain what they’re seeing on the screen. And that, you know, for, once again, for a woman who’s been raped, that is just adding trauma to that experience,” said Selznick.
Michael Janocik with the Kentucky Right-to-Life Association says one measure contains language permitting exemptions in case of a medical emergency, though rape is not explicitly listed as one of them.
The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory ultrasound.
The measure passed 33-5 Wednesday with wide Republican support. This is the tenth year the bill has cleared the Senate. All previous efforts have gone on to die in the Democratically-controlled House.
The bill does not provide an exemption for victims of rape. Bill sponsor Whitney Westerfield acknowledges that transvaginal ultrasounds could be traumatic for rape victims.
“I’m not compelling that particular use, and I think that probably would be traumatic and I don’t know, I don’t presume to know what a woman would be thinking in that position, but I think it probably would be," the Hopkinsville Republican said. "They oughta have the option of which ultrasound. That’s why I didn’t write it so it’d be compelled.”
Dissenters say the bill is degrading to women, and similar laws in other states are costing taxpayers money as a result of legal challenges.
Westerfield said he had not had a chance to review those cases.
A Kentucky Senate committee has passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory ultrasound procedure.
Senate Bill 8 is the latest anti-abortion measure to clear the panel.
Lawmakers heard testimony from Derrick Selznick, who is director of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Selznick opposes the bill on the grounds that it’s demeaning to women.
“So for the majority of women that this will effect in Kentucky, there will have to have [sic] a vaginal ultrasound," Selznick said. "And the courts have ruled that the only way a woman can dissent, even though it is written into the law that they can avert their eyes, the only way she can can fulfill that is to wear blinders and noise cancelling headphones. And if that isn’t degrading, I don’t know what is.”
Bill sponsor Whitney Westerfield says the measure is designed to protect innocent life.
Another anti-abortion bill, Senate Bill 3, passed in that chamber last week.
A Republican lawmaker has amended a bill expanding domestic violence protections for dating couples to include language limiting abortions.
Rep. Joe Fischer of Ft. Thomas says he believes abortion is a form of domestic violence.
“The most brutal form of domestic violence is the violence against unborn children," the northern Kentucky Republican said. "And, this particular bill would prohibit abortions after the fetus feels pain, which is 20 weeks and older.”
The amendment will have to come up for inclusion on the House floor. It's likely to attract criticism from Democrats who will say it isn’t germane to the legislation.
The bulk of scientific literature on the subject suggests that fetuses do not feel pain before 24 weeks of gestation.
The United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a similar case today Monday regarding an Arizona law that would ban abortions at 20 weeks. That effectively preserved a previous ruling that the Arizona law was unconstitutional.
Several Democrats in the Kentucky House have filed a bill that would make it a felony for doctors not to consult with patients seeking abortions a day before the procedure.
The bill is one of many filed this year that would limit abortion access.
Derek Selznick, Reproductive Freedom Project Director of the ACLU of Kentucky, says this bill and others would most severely affect women outside of major cities.
“If a woman is from a rural part of the state, that means she’s gonna have to get a hotel. If she works an hourly job, she’s out two days’ wages. All of these are serious impediments that offer really no higher quality of care. All they do is put a higher burden on a woman seeking abortion.”
Selznick says the bill is cobbled together from Republican proposals in the Senate.
Arguing that some Kentucky legislators routinely file bills that would be, if enacted, harmful to women, activists rallied Saturday outside the state Capitol to support what they called "reproductive justice" in advance of the 2014 General Assembly session.
Roughly 75 activists caravanned from Louisville to Frankfort to advocate for legislation that would expand access to abortion and contraceptives, family support programs and comprehensive, science-based sex education.
Speakers at the rally lambasted what some called "religious conservatives" in Kentucky legislature who constantly introduce legislation that they claim harm low-income women.
"In Kentucky, year after year, there are proposals that continue to go before the legislature that would seek to limit a person's access to comprehensive sexuality education; seek to limit a person's access to the full range of pregnancy-related healthcare, including contraception and abortion; and seek to deny family support," Dawn Cooley, a minister at Louisville's First Unitarian Church, told the crowd.