Kentucky House passes bill to regulate medication abortions

FILE - In this Monday, July 17, 2017 file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW...
FILE - In this Monday, July 17, 2017 file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky. On July 21, 2017, a federal judge established a buffer zone outside the clinic to keep anti-abortion protesters from assembling in front of the entrance, after at least 10 protesters were arrested for blocking it earlier in the month. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan) (KY3)
Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 8:57 PM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky House voted Wednesday to strictly regulate the dispensing of abortion pills, requiring women to be examined in person by a doctor before receiving the medication.

The measure — the latest in a series of efforts to put restrictions on abortions in Kentucky — won House passage on a 77-20 vote after a long and sometimes-emotional debate. The far-reaching proposal moves on to the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

The bill is part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to limit the ability of physicians to prescribe abortion pills by telemedicine, and comes in response to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies. About half of abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medication procedures. Opponents called the measure another intrusion into women’s medical decisions.

Shipment of the pills by mail would be banned under the measure. It would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before a woman could undergo a medication abortion.

Republican Rep. Nancy Tate, the bill’s lead sponsor and a prominent abortion opponent, said she went online to find out how easy it is to place an order for the pills. What she learned showed the need for the restrictions included in her bill, she said.

“Within 15 minutes, I had this product on its way... in a nondescript package with no doctor visit, no consultation, no information at all,” Tate said.

She said “that’s not the kind of health care” that Kentuckians should receive.

Opponents said the bill’s multiple restrictions threaten access to abortion for many women.

“They erode, erode, erode our rights to try and wear us down and wear us out until we get too tired to fight,” said Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond. “They do a pretty good job. But ultimately you will see that there are more of us... who believe deeply in the power of women to make decisions about the direction of their own lives. And we won’t get tired.”

The bill’s critics said the legislature should instead be focusing on the needs of Kentucky children who go hungry, need protection from abuse or need a permanent home.

“At what point do we get out of other people’s bedrooms, out of other people’s lives, out of other people’s medical decisions and take care of the people that are here?” said Democratic Rep. Pamela Stevenson.

The bill stems in part from recent federal action. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rise in telemedicine and action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowing abortion pills to be mailed so patients could skip in-person visits to get them.

The FDA made the change permanent in December. That move led to stepped-up efforts by abortion opponents to seek more restrictions on medication abortions through state legislatures.

The House debate on the bill meant to reflect Kentucky’s response lasted about two hours.

In supporting the measure, Republican Rep. Jim DuPlessis said: “Abortion is a human that we’re extinguishing. ... We can’t gloss over that humanity.”

The Kentucky measure would direct the state pharmacy board to oversee the distribution of abortion pills. The pharmacy board also would oversee a certification process for pharmacies, physicians, manufacturers and distributors who administer or provide the drugs.

The measure also would put new restrictions on the process through which a girl can seek permission from a judge for an abortion in cases where getting permission from a parent is not possible or might put the girl in danger.

The bill would require the pharmacy board to create a complaint portal on its website. It would list the names of doctors certified to prescribe medication to induce abortions and pharmacies, manufacturers and distributors certified to supply it. Opponents warned that the portal would expose abortion providers to increased harassment.

The bill continues aggressive efforts by Kentucky lawmakers to put restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP assumed complete control of the legislature after the 2016 election.

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