The last one was passed on the session’s final day. House Bill 91, a proposed constitutional amendment, simply states, “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”
The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, has stated there is no explicit right to abortion in the Kentucky Constitution. “HB 91 simply assures that no Kentucky court will ever be able to fashion an implicit right to abortion from the language of our state constitution,” Fischer said. “There will be no Roe vs. Wade decision in Kentucky.”
Fischer noted that while abortion advocates in nearly a dozen states were able to get state court systems to say their constitutions gave that implicit right to abortion from the language of the state constitution, most of those states have passed legislation similar to HB 91 that reverses those actions.
Since it is a proposed constitutional amendment, the governor cannot veto the measure. Since there are no elections this year in Kentucky, the proposal will be on the November 2022 ballot. If approved by voters, the Constitution would then pre-empt any court ruling that could legalize abortion in the state, should the U.S. Supreme Court reverse its ruling that guarantees a right to an abortion.
A measure that won approval early in the session was Senate Bill 9, known as the “Born Alive” bill.
“Whether it’s an abortion that didn’t work, or a premature birth, or whatever the circumstance might be, if a child is born alive, it must be given medical care consistent with whatever its needs are,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. “This doesn’t change the standard of care, it doesn’t establish what that care must be, because medical professionals need to make that decision where they are at that moment, under the circumstances.”
SB 9 passed the Senate 32-7 on January 7, and 76-18 in the House on January 9.
When governors receive a bill from the General Assembly, they can sign it, veto it or let it become law without a signature ten days later. Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a similar measure in 2020, which could not be overridden since lawmakers had adjourned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year Beshear took the third option, allowing it to become law without his signature.
SB 9 contained an emergency clause, so instead of taking effect 90 days after lawmakers adjourn as is the case for bills that don’t have a specific date, it became law immediately after the ten-day period passed.
Lawmakers also approved HB 2, which allows the attorney general to investigate and seek civil and criminal penalties for violations of Kentucky abortion laws, without having to wait for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to make a request.
HB 2 also won passage by a wide margin in both chambers in early January. It was vetoed by Beshear, but both the House and Senate easily overrode the veto. Since it also contained an emergency clause, the measure took effect immediately following the override votes.
Another measure described as pro-life by its sponsor won unanimous approval in the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor.
HB 155 allows the use of a newborn safety device, or “Baby Box,” in the anonymous surrendering of a newborn infant at a participating staffed police station, fire station or hospital.
“I am committed to passing pro-life legislation, and, ultimately, that is exactly what this bill is,” said the sponsor, Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg. “Pro-life means supporting parents and children before and after birth. This bill provides parents, who may be at the end of their rope, a safe option to save the life of their child. I appreciate the bipartisan support the bill received in the House and the Senate and thank the governor for signing it into law.”
Baby boxes are temperature-controlled, ventilated boxes that can be installed easily at public buildings or other safe places throughout a community. They are monitored electronically for safety, and 911 is notified as soon as the outer door of the box is opened.
Once the infant is placed into the bassinet and the door is closed, a second sensor triggers emergency services. A button on the outside of the box also allows whoever placed the baby in the safe box to trigger another call to 911. Emergency personnel usually arrive at the site in less than five minutes.
Other than for interim committee meetings, lawmakers won’t return to Frankfort until next January unless the governor calls a special session.