February 2, 2016 — The Kentucky Senate on Monday voted 33-5 to approve an amended bill (SB 4) that would add requirements to a state law that requires women to undergo mandatory counseling prior to receiving abortion care, CNHI News Service/Ashland Daily Independent reports (Ellis, CNHI News Service/AshlandDaily Independent, 2/1).
The bill now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who said he would sign the measure (Brammer, Lexington Herald-Leader, 2/1).
Under current state law, a licensed nurse, physician, physician assistant or social worker must tell women at least 24 hours prior to an abortion about the procedure's risks and abortion alternatives. The state allows the mandatory counseling to be provided over the phone.
Earlier this month, the state Senate voted 32-5 to approve a version of SB 4 that would have required women to undergo the counseling in person. On Wednesday, conservative lawmakers in the state House held a procedural vote in an effort to force a vote on the Senate-passed version. However, the procedural vote failed.
Last week, the state House passed an amended version of the bill that would require physicians or a physician designee to discuss the procedure's risks and alternatives with women in-person or via video chat at least 24 hours before the procedure. Physicians would still be permitted to authorize a licensed nurse, physician assistant or social worker to deliver the message on their behalf (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/29).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky criticized the bill, stating that the measure "is opening a door to unprecedented government meddling in personal health consultation." The organization said the bill "adds an unnecessary barrier to safe and legal abortions, by requiring a 24-hour, forced delay before the procedure for counseling."
Derek Selznick, director of ACLU of Kentucky's Reproductive Freedom Project, noted that "thousands of Kentucky families don't have ready access to high-speed internet necessary to use live, real-time communication services like Skype" (Lexington Herald-Leader, 2/1). He said, "Instead of respecting and protecting the rights of women in the commonwealth to consult with a medical professional privately and on their own terms, lawmakers are now dictating care and medical advice from Frankfort."
State Sen. Reginald Thomas (D), who voted against the bill, said the legislation served no purpose. "It's obvious that these women understand ... what it means to be pregnant," he said, adding, "And to require them to have a conference ... to explain the obvious is just ridiculous."
Separately, Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, said while the telemedicine provision mitigates some of the burdens of in-person requirements, "[state-mandated] abortion counseling itself is problematic and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship" (Schreiner, AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/1).