FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – The Kentucky Senate passed a bill on Monday that would require doctors to provide life-saving care to infants who survive failed abortions, with the bill now destined for the state’s House of Representatives.
Despite a lack of evidence that such a scenario has ever occurred in the Bluegrass State, Senator Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, the bill’s primary sponsor, said it was necessary to “prevent it ever happening.”
SB 9 was put before the Senate and passed with no opposition on Monday afternoon. The measure intends to “prohibit a person from denying or depriving a born-alive infant of nourishment with the intent to cause or allow the death of the infant.”
The bill also prohibits a person “from denying or depriving a born-alive infant of medically appropriate and reasonable medical care, medical treatment, or surgical care,” and requires the physician performing the abortion to take necessary steps to save the infant’s life.
Any doctor or healthcare professional found in violation of the proposed law would face a prison sentence of one to five years.
Prior to Monday’s passage, the bill remained unchallenged by any member of Kentucky’s Republican-dominated Legislature, and was co-signed by nearly half of the 38 senators.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky said in a statement Monday that “bills like SB 9 perpetuate myths and lies about abortion care, the patients who receive this care, and the doctors who provide this care.”
“SB9 is another anti-abortion bill that reveals the consistent strategy of anti-abortion politicians,” the group said. “Bills like SB9 build on each other and chip at abortion access bit by bit to push abortion completely out of reach.”
Westerfield defended the bill in a statement to reporters last week.
“Who can dispute that that’s a human life?” the senator said. “It’s outside the womb. It’s alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?”
Before the Senate’s vote on Monday, Westerfield introduced the bill and said he was concerned by recent abortion legislation in New York and Virginia.
He cited New York’s 2019 Reproductive Health Act, and said the decision to allow abortions up to week 40 of pregnancy was troubling.
The law, passed on the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, allows for abortions past the 24-week mark, but only in cases that concern nonviable fetuses or endanger the life of the mother.
Westerfield also mentioned Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s comments about a discussion between doctors and a mother when a nonviable fetus is delivered.
Northam was accused of endorsing infanticide by conservatives when he made the remarks last year, but rebuffed the accusations and said he was instead “focused on the tragic and extremely rare case in which a woman with a nonviable pregnancy or severe fatal abnormalities went into labor.”
Westerfield applauded the passage of SB 9 in a statement to Courthouse News on Monday afternoon.
“Policymakers often debate whether or not life begins at conception, as I believe it does, but surely no one can dispute that a child born alive is a human worthy of care and protection,” he said. “I’m glad to see Senate Bill 9 pass unanimously from the Senate floor and I look forward to its passage in the House.”
All 32 senators who participated voted in favor of the bill, although Democrat Reginald Thomas of Lexington clarified his decision with a comment to his fellow lawmakers.
Thomas told the Senate that after he spoke with doctors in his district this week, he is convinced they are already required by law to provide the care outlined in the bill.
“This bill deals with children who are born alive,” Thomas said.
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, abstained from voting.
Kentucky has passed an increasing number of abortion-related laws since Republicans gained majorities in the House and Senate in 2017, but they have faced stiff opposition from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other pro-abortion rights advocates.
Most recently, Kentucky argued last August before the Sixth Circuit to reinstate a law requiring abortion clinics to maintain transfer agreements with nearby hospitals.
Another hearing before the appeals court is also scheduled for later this week regarding a law that added regulations to second-trimester abortions but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. Courthouse News will have coverage of the arguments on Wednesday.