Kentucky governor signs abortion-related measure 'years in the making'

Marnie McAllister

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Year after year, a bill related to informed consent prior to an abortion has languished in the Kentucky House.

Not this year. The proposal was approved by the Senate Feb. 1 in a 33-to-5 vote after the House added an amendment. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who took office in December, signed it into law Feb. 2.

Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and the state's three other Catholic bishops, along with their public policy arm, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, were among those who welcomed the new law.

It amends Kentucky's informed consent statute, which requires women seeking an abortion to be informed of its risks at least 24 hours prior to the procedure in a private setting with a medical professional. Previously, that requirement was interpreted as allowing the information to be shared in a recorded message.

The new law requires a face-to-face meeting with a health care provider. The House amendment makes it permissible to have this face-to-face meeting via real-time video conference.

Jason Hall, executive director of the state Catholic conference in Frankfort, said he was pleased with the outcome, but expressed some concern about the House amendment.

"We had kind of a rushed amendment in the House. There was no time to vet it," Hall said during a phone interview Feb. 2 with The Record, Louisville's archdiocesan newspaper. "We're fine as long as these conversations occur in a live real-time conversation with a human being. You have to make sure the intent of the legislation will become a reality."

Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of the New York-based Priests for Life organization, said in a statement that the vote to approve the measure was "so overwhelming [it] shows that there is much more that Kentuckians want their legislators to do to protect life."

Kentucky's bishops called the legislation historic and a "very important step."

It "has the potential to provide great help to all who seek to reach out to a pregnant woman and her family in need," they said in a Feb. 2 statement. "For many years, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky [CCK] has urged the passage of this common-sense step to ensure that women receive the information they need about these life decisions of the greatest magnitude. As CCK continues to seek to protect the child in the womb and to reach out with compassion and care to women who need assistance, this bill is a very important step."

The bishops -- Kurtz, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys, Owensboro Bishop William F. Medley and Lexington Bishop John Stowe* -- also recommitted the church to its ministry of assisting women in crisis pregnancies.

"As we celebrate this legislation, which has been years in the making, we recommit ourselves and our resources to assisting pregnant women and their families. All four dioceses in Kentucky have respect-life ministries and social services that provide help, and the statewide ministry sponsored by the four Roman Catholic Bishops of Kentucky, Opportunities for Life, offers nonjudgmental and confidential support to women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and helps them to recognize the many opportunities and resources that exist for those who choose life."

The bishops also gave thanks for the efforts of the Catholic conference staff, who have worked on this legislation for more than a decade. And they expressed gratitude for the citizens and legislators who advocated for the legislation.

"This is a great day for a culture of life in Kentucky," the statement concluded.

It's a great day for expectant mothers, too, according to Ed Harpring, coordinator of pro-life ministries for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

"As a sidewalk counselor, I see firsthand that many women enter into the abortion center as a panic reaction to an unplanned pregnancy, without even considering options," he told The Record. "Of course, a baby is lost and many of them suffer with a lifetime of regret."

Harpring believes the legislation will help a mother slow down and make a more informed, careful decision.

"Many women -- and statistics show this -- realize that they can get through this unplanned pregnancy," he said. "By simply giving themselves more time to calm down, the panic factor goes away, and they choose life."

*An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect bishop for Lexington.

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