Kentucky House passes bill to regulate medical abortions


FILE – In this July 17, 2017, file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state’s only abortion clinic. Kentucky lawmakers took a first step on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, toward putting in place more regulations on medical abortions, responding to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate teenage pregnancies. A Republican-dominated House committee has introduced a far-reaching abortion bill that would ban the mailing of such drugs. This would require an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before undergoing a medical abortion. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)


The Kentucky House voted on Wednesday to strictly regulate the distribution of abortion pills, requiring women to be examined in person by a doctor before receiving the drug.

The measure — the latest in a series of efforts to impose restrictions on abortions in Kentucky — passed the House by a vote of 77 to 20 after a long and sometimes emotional debate. The ambitious proposal passes to the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both houses.

The bill is part of a nationwide campaign by anti-abortion groups to limit the ability of doctors to prescribe abortion pills via telemedicine, and comes in response to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to interrupt early pregnancies. About half of the abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medical procedures. Opponents called the measure another intrusion into women’s medical decisions.

Mailing pills would be prohibited under the measure. It would take an in-person visit with a doctor, rather than using telehealth, before a woman could have a medical abortion.

Republican Rep. Nancy Tate, the bill’s lead sponsor and a prominent abortion opponent, said she went online to find out how easy it was to place an order for the pills. What she learned showed the need for the restrictions included in her bill, she said.

“Within 15 minutes I had this product on the way…in nondescript packaging with no doctor’s visit, no consultation, no information,” Tate said.

She said “that’s not the kind of health care” Kentuckians should be getting.

Opponents said the bill’s multiple restrictions threaten access to abortion for many women.

“They’re eroding, eroding, eroding our rights to try to wear us down and wear us down until we’re too tired to fight,” said Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond. “They’re doing a really good job. But at the end of the day, you’ll see that more of us…believe deeply in the power of women to make decisions about the direction of their own lives. And we won’t get tired. .

Critics of the bill said the legislature should instead focus on the needs of Kentucky children who are hungry, need protection from abuse or need forever homes.

“At what point do we step out of other people’s rooms, other people’s lives, other people’s medical decisions and take care of the people who are here?” said Democratic Representative Pamela Stevenson.

The bill stems in part from recent federal action. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an increase in telemedicine and action by the United States Food and Drug Administration to allow abortion pills to be mailed so patients can avoid in-person visits to obtain them.

The FDA made the change permanent in December. The move led abortion opponents to redouble their efforts to push for more restrictions on medical abortions through state legislatures.

The House debate on the bill meant to reflect Kentucky’s response lasted about two hours.

In supporting the measure, Republican Representative Jim DuPlessis said, “Abortion is a human being that we are shutting down. … We cannot ignore this humanity.”

The Kentucky measure would direct the state’s board of pharmacies to oversee the distribution of abortion pills. The pharmacy board would also oversee a certification process for pharmacies, physicians, manufacturers and distributors who administer or supply the drugs.

The measure would also impose new restrictions on the process by which a girl can seek permission from a judge for an abortion in cases where obtaining permission from a parent is not possible or could put the girl in danger.

The bill would require the Pharmacy Board to create a complaints portal on its website. It would list the names of doctors authorized to prescribe drugs to induce abortions and pharmacies, manufacturers and distributors authorized to supply them. Opponents have warned that the portal would expose abortion providers to increased harassment.

The bill continues aggressive efforts by Kentucky lawmakers to impose restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP took full control of the legislature after the 2016 election.


The legislation is House Bill 3.

Lynn A. Saleh