Kentucky lawmakers vote to ban common type of abortion after 11 weeks

"This isn’t about medical care."

Pregnant woman having sonogram
Pregnant woman having sonogram

A bill that bans a common abortion procedure after 11 weeks “post-fertilization” — also known as 13 weeks gestation — is headed to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who’s described himself as “100 percent pro-life.”

The Kentucky House of Representatives voted 75-13 in favor of the anti-choice bill on Tuesday, which lawmakers tout will ban “[b]odily dismemberment, crushing, or human vivisection.”

The legislation represents yet another ban on a safe, common in-clinic abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E). These bans have become common practice for conservative legislatures looking to restrict abortion access. Eight states have recently passed D&E abortion bans, though a majority have been blocked temporarily by court challenges. Bans in Mississippi and West Virginia are the only ones currently in effect.

Kentucky’s bill makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for patients seeking an abortion due to pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.


The bill’s language is political, not medical. For example, the legislation bans any “procedure in which a person, with the purpose of causing the death of an unborn child, dismembers the living unborn child and extracts portions, pieces, or limbs of the unborn child.” During a March 22 committee hearing on the bill, its primary sponsor, state Rep. Addia Wuchner (R), encouraged doctors to perform other in-clinic abortion procedures as she demonized D&E abortions.

Earlier versions of the legislation were so ambiguous that many believed House Bill 454 effectively banned all surgical abortions after 11 weeks. As currently written, HB 454 does not ban other common in-clinic abortion procedures such as suction abortion (also called vacuum aspiration), according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky’s Amber Duke.

Figuring out how the bill’s politicized “dismemberment” language translates to actual abortion procedures is critical to know, as doctors who run afoul of the ban would be guilty of a Class D felony. In other words, if the bill becomes law, physicians in the state who perform D&E abortion procedures could spend one to five years in prison.

Physicians are being incriminated for providing a safe medical procedure. A landmark report released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that examined four types of abortion methods — including D&E — confirmed yet again that abortion is safe. The report also found that it’s actually lawmakers’ restrictions that endanger patients, concluding that “abortion-specific regulations in many states create barriers to safe and effective care.”

D&E was used in 537 of 3,312 Kentucky abortions in 2016, according to the Courier Journal. Nationwide, these procedures account for the majority of second-trimester abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.


“For us, this isn’t about medical care,” Duke told ThinkProgress. “The doctors in the clinics are not coming to the general assembly asking for these measures. The language in the bill [is] not the language of the actual medical procedure. This is political. And all about incriminating safe, and legal abortion.”

The D&E ban is the first anti-abortion bill to pass the Kentucky legislature this session — but it follows a number of restrictive bills signed into law in other states in recent months. The vast majority of abortions take place early in pregnancy, which is perhaps why anti-choice lawmakers are pushing to outlaw the procedure at an early date. Twenty week abortion bans have been enacted in 21 states, and now many of these same conservative states are looking to incriminate the doctor for performing the procedure at an even earlier date and, by extension, shame a person who either can’t or does not want to be pregnant. Last week, a federal judge blocked a Mississippi law that bans all abortions after 15 weeks gestation.