Already mired in three lawsuits over abortion restrictions, Kentucky lawmakers are ratcheting up the stakes with a new bill to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. As a new legislative session opens, the measure appeared to be on a fast track in the Republican-dominated state Senate. The American Civil Liberties Union, the state’s adversary in the ongoing courthouse fights, warns the heartbeat bill would prohibit most abortions in Kentucky and would immediately trigger a legal challenge.
Kentucky’s bill is at odds with the legal standard set by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which prohibits states from banning abortions before viability. But the Kentucky proposal is among a series of measures introduced by abortion opponents who hope the Supreme Court will be more receptive to limiting abortion rights now that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key vote to preserve abortion rights, has retired.
Kennedy was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Though Kavanaugh’s record on abortion is limited, he did vote as a federal appeals court judge in 2017 in favor of delaying an abortion for a pregnant immigrant teenager in federal custody. The effort to prohibit abortions in Kentucky once a fetal heartbeat is detected — which is around six weeks of pregnancy — would further cement Kentucky’s reputation as “one of the most hostile states” to abortion rights in the country, Amiri said by phone.
The ACLU attorney added that the “vast majority” of abortions occur after six weeks of pregnancy and called a six-week ban unconstitutional under more than 40 years of precedent.
“Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks,” she said. “So this is a virtual ban on abortion.”