FRANKFORT (AP) — The Kentucky House voted Thursday evening to amend the state’s informed consent law to allow real-time video consultations between doctors and women as an option at least 24 hours before an abortion.
The 92-3 vote reflected a rare compromise between legislative Democrats and Republicans on the polarizing abortion issue. It followed days of parliamentary maneuvering by Republicans to force a vote and a hastily convened committee meeting that sent a version of the bill to the full House for action.
For years, House Democrats had killed bills that sought to restrict access to abortion.
“It’s a historic day for us to be able to pass this legislation,” House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover told reporters after Thursday’s vote.
House members added so-called telemedicine as an option for women and doctors to comply with the informed consent law. The House version offers the option of face-to-face meetings in person or by video.
“Modern medicine has given us the way forward to be able to solve the logistical problems,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, said in presenting the legislation to the full House.
A leading critic of the bill, Derek Selznick with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the video option would allow patients easier and more convenient access to counseling. But it didn’t fix the bill’s intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, he said.
“Legislators were not elected to provide medical advice or care to Kentucky women and should have greater respect for the women and medical professionals they represent,” Selznick said in a statement.
The bill now returns to the Republican-controlled Senate.
Earlier this month, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to require patients to meet with doctors in person at least 24 hours before an abortion. Hoover said he hopes the Senate accepts the House version. If it does, that would send the measure to new Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, an abortion opponent.
Bevin’s spokeswoman, Jessica Ditto, said of the House vote: “We are pleased with the overwhelming bipartisan support on this important issue.”
Kentucky law has required women meet with a doctor since 1998. But since then, many doctors have discussed the procedure with women on the phone. Hoover said he was confident that the House version of the bill would prevent phone calls as a way to try to comply with the law.
Kentucky has abortion clinics in Louisville and Lexington, the state’s two largest cities. That means women from many rural areas of the state have long trips to undergo the procedure.
The House version allows a doctor to designate a licensed nurse, physician assistant or social worker to represent him or her at the in-person or video consultations.
The Senate supports allowing those others to represent a doctor at in-person meetings.
The House vote came after a closed-door meeting among House Democrats, followed by a hastily convened committee meeting to take up the informed consent bill and send it to the floor.
House Republican objected to the rushed nature of the committee action to amend the bill, but later accepted the real-time video conferencing option.
“Given today’s technology, I think that’s an acceptable compromise under today’s political climate,” said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington. He said the bill was “a huge win for the unborn.”
The vote came at a time when Democrats are fighting to maintain their historic control of the House.
Democrats are clinging to a 50-46 House majority, with four special elections looming in March that could determine who controls the chamber. Amid that uncertainty, Stumbo had previously said the informed consent bill had a better chance of passing this year.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said there had been no public outcry for the legislation.
“This is purely a political vote,” she said during the debate.
The legislation is Senate Bill 4.