The Republican-led Kentucky legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto Wednesday evening and passed strict abortion restrictions that advocates say will force the state’s two clinics to stop providing abortions immediately.
The 15-week ban is modeled after the Mississippi law currently before the Supreme Court, in a case that could overturn or roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that has guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide. Last December, the majority conservative Supreme Court signaled it was likely to restrict abortion access.
Beshear had vetoed the bill on Friday, citing the lack of exceptions for rape and incest.
“Rape and incest are violent crimes,” he said. “Victims of these crimes should have options, not be further scarred through a process that exposes them to more harm from their rapists or that treats them like offenders themselves.”
Late Wednesday, the Kentucky House voted, 76 to 21, and the Senate voted, 31 to 6, to override the veto.
Anticipating a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court within months, Republican lawmakers and governors have moved expeditiously to restrict access to abortion, impose new rules or even criminalize performing the procedure, as Oklahoma did this past week.
On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a potential 2024 presidential candidate, signed legislation that will ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Florida currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks. The new law, which passed the GOP-controlled legislature in March, includes exceptions for the life of the mother and “fatal fetal anomalies” but does not make exceptions for rape or incest. It would take effect in July.
In Kentucky, abortion rights advocates say the state will be the first forced to halt all abortion procedures as the law takes effect immediately. On Thursday, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Kentucky said that it was not performing abortions.
In recent weeks, Planned Parenthood patients who called to schedule abortions in Kentucky have been notified that the law was likely to pass, and many are being referred to abortion clinics in neighboring Indiana, according to Nicole Erwin, communications manager for Planned Parenthood’s Kentucky affiliate.
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Kentucky state Sen. Stephen Meredith (R) called abortion “a stain on our country” and “our greatest sin.”
“If a mother can kill her own child, what prevents us from killing ourselves and one another?” he said.
Democratic lawmakers spoke out against the legislation, urging their Republican colleagues to reconsider.
“It takes an amazing amount of audacity to assume you know that you can make this decision for every woman and female child in this state,” state Sen. Karen Berg (D) said. “I beg my colleagues to think about what they are doing.”
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union announced lawsuits challenging the law as soon as the legislature voted to override the governor’s veto. The abortion rights advocacy groups say the law is unconstitutional under Roe.
The list of restrictions presents too many obstacles for clinics to continue providing care in the short term, said Alecia Fields, an abortion provider at the Planned Parenthood in Louisville. Among the most difficult restrictions to comply with is the new rule on fetal remains, she said. The law requires abortion clinics to work with funeral homes to bury or cremate the remains of each aborted pregnancy.
To comply with that law, Fields said, the clinic will probably be forced to hire more people who can help facilitate an elaborate and medically unnecessary burial process for each abortion performed.
“You also have to find funeral homes that are willing to work with Planned Parenthood in the state of Kentucky,” Fields said. Any funeral home that agrees to help will inevitably be opening itself to backlash from the community, she added.
Even if the lawsuits are unsuccessful, and the law is allowed to stand, Fields said she is confident that clinics in Kentucky will be able to find a way to continue providing abortions.
“I think maybe I hate to say this because I don’t want [Republican lawmakers] to think there’s more they can do to restrict access, but I think eventually there is a way to still provide care with all these restrictions.”
She’s just not sure how long that will take, Fields said.