The Kentucky House voted late Thursday night to pass Senate Bill 9, also known as the “Fetal Heartbeat Bill,” which would ban abortions in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected – usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.
The bill’s passage in the House by a vote of 71 to 19 follows a 31 to 6 approval in the Kentucky Senate on Feb. 14. The bill, sponsored by Senator Matt Castlen, an Owensboro Republican, was passed as emergency legislation, which means it became effective when Governor Matt Bevin signed it at 12 a.m. Friday.
“I asked the governor if he could stick around,” Castlen said. “He stayed until after midnight. When he inked it, it became law.”
“SB 9 … makes Kentucky leading the nation in being pro-life,” Castlen said. “I think the message to send to Kentucky is we are pro-life in Kentucky, and value that over most other things. You have to have your heart right before you get most other things right.”
Opponents of the bill argued it is unconstitutional because it will effectively ban all abortions in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky announced immediately after the bill passed they would file a lawsuit to prevent it from becoming a law.
“Kentucky became the latest state to pass a law that will ban abortion before most women know they’re pregnant,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “These bans are blatantly unconstitutional, and we will ask the court to strike it down.”
“We welcome their lawsuit,” Castlen said. “When they sue, they’re putting themselves at risk. We wouldn’t have passed the bill if we didn’t think it was constitutional.”
SB 9 is one of the country’s strictest abortion laws. Mississippi passed a similar ban that will take effect in July, while Republican-led legislatures in several other states are attempting to enact similar legislation. Comparable laws have already been ruled unconstitutional in Iowa and North Dakota.
Earlier Thursday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging another Kentucky bill that bans abortion based on the gender, race or disability of the fetus. That bill won final passage on Wednesday.
In response to their suit, Governor Matt Bevin wrote on Twitter, “Bring it! Kentucky will always fight for life … always!”
SB 9 stipulates that an abortion provider must determine if a fetus has a detectable heartbeat before performing an abortion. Anyone who performs or induces an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected would be guilty of a Class D felony.
The bill does not apply to a physician performing a medical procedure intended to prevent the death of a pregnant person. Women who receive an abortion in violation of the law will not be prosecuted.
The bill requires anyone who performs or induces an abortion to document the reasons for the procedure in the patient’s medical records. It also requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to inspect the medical records from any facility where abortions are performed to ensure that abortion providers are complying with the reporting requirements.
“This was one of my … priorities, to stand up for life and moral issues in our state and community,” Castlen said. “The people in our community are extremely excited to see that a child will be protected in its most sacred spot in the mother’s womb. It’s so exciting to see it happen, and it’s relief now knowing these children are being protected.”
The Kentucky General Assembly passed two other abortion-related bills on Thursday as well. One requires women who have a drug-induced abortion to be informed that it can be reversed, while the other will ban abortion in Kentucky should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
Castlen represents the 8th District, which includes Daviess County, Hancock County and McLean County. He said there is still work to do in Kentucky, and he plans to focus on reforming the tax code next. “I just want to thank the community for the overwhelming support through this,” he said. “This wouldn’t have been possible without them.”