FRANKFORT (AP) — Ending years of stalemate on the abortion issue, Kentucky lawmakers on Monday gave final passage to legislation allowing real-time video consultations between doctors and women as an option to fulfill “informed consent” requirements before an abortion.
The state’s new Republican governor said he would sign the measure into law.
The Senate voted 33-5 to update the state’s informed consent law requiring that women seeking abortions first be told of the medical risks and benefits at least 24 hours before the procedure.
The bill’s supporters say some doctors have circumvented that requirement by having patients listen to a recorded message on the phone with no interaction. Abortion opponents said Monday’s vote culminated 12 years of efforts to pass abortion legislation through Kentucky’s politically divided General Assembly.
“It is my hope that (with) the information provided to these women, these mothers who are considering an abortion, that they will think twice about the action they are about to take,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
Adding to the symbolism, the measure was the first one that lawmakers sent to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, an abortion opponent elected last year. The version of the bill headed to Bevin would give patients and doctors the option of meetings in person or by video.
Bevin said he looked forwarding to signing “this long overdue, pro-life bill into law.” He called it a “positive step toward protecting the emotional and physical health and safety of women.”
“When enacted, we will ensure that the legislative regulations follow the full intent of the law with regards to a face-to-face, real-time informed consultation,” the governor said.
The bill also appears to put Kentucky at the forefront in incorporating telemedicine into abortion services.
In other states requiring consultations ahead of abortions, the laws appear to be silent on use of telemedicine, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a research and public analysis organization focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Using telemedicine to provide abortion counseling could help alleviate some of the problems with requiring in-person consultations, such as forcing women to make two trips to the facility, she said.
“But it remains that the abortion counseling itself is problematic and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” Nash said.
A leading critic of the bill, Derek Selznick of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said lawmakers who denounce “big government” put themselves between women and their medical care providers.
“Instead of respecting and protecting the rights of women in the commonwealth to consult with a medical professional privately and on their own terms, lawmakers are now dictating care and medical advice from Frankfort,” he said.
Last month, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted overwhelmingly to require patients to meet with doctors in person at least 24 hours before an abortion. But on Monday, the Senate accepted compromise language passed last week by the Democratic-led House to give the option of in-person or video meetings.
Some Republican House members stood at the back of the Senate chamber during Monday’s debate. After the vote, many senators stood and applauded.
Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington was among five Senate Democrats voting against the bill. Thomas said there was no purpose for the legislation and that unwanted pregnancies would continue to occur.
“It’s obvious that these women understand … what it means to be pregnant,” he said. “And to require them to have a conference … to explain the obvious is just ridiculous.”
Senate Democrats were divided on the issue. In voting for the bill, Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones II, D-Pikeville, said it’s not a partisan issue but “a matter of what is right and what is wrong.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 4.