FRANKFORT, Ky. — Abortion opponents in Kentucky notched a new legislative victory Tuesday when the state House passed a bill that would ban the procedure for women seeking to end their pregnancies because of the gender, race or disability of the fetus.
The measure cleared the chamber on a 67-25 vote that sends it to the Senate. It's part of an aggressive agenda by the Republican-dominated legislatures in Kentucky and several other states to restrict abortion.
The Kentucky bill that advanced Tuesday would ban abortions based on the fetus' sex, race, color, national origin — or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the congenital condition Down syndrome or any other disability.
Republican Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, the bill's lead sponsor, said the measure recognizes that "all human life has intrinsic value." Rep. Nancy Tate said that terminating a pregnancy due to an unborn baby's disability "suggests that someone with a disability is a lesser human being."
"We should be strongly communicating that a child should be loved and cared for irrespective of what they look like, how they will behave or their abilities," said Tate. The Republican was among the bill's three dozen co-sponsors.
Speaking against the bill, Democratic Rep. Maria Sorolis said it is "incredibly presumptuous" for lawmakers to "decide the burdens another family must bear" when prenatal screenings determine that a pregnancy will result in the delivery of a child who is profoundly disabled.
"It is easy to tell others how they should live when we do not have to shoulder the burdens that they bear," she said. "We do not have to endure their pain and heartache at seeing their children racked with pain every day. We are not sent here to pontificate to others when we have not walked in their shoes."
Sorolis said she has friends and family who have raised profoundly disabled children, calling them her "personal heroes." In those situations, the families were fortunate enough to have good health insurance coverage to ensure the needed level of care, she said.
"What becomes of the children who aren't fortunate enough to be born into families with great private insurance?" she asked.
Other opponents said the bill would intrude into doctor-patient relationships by forcing physicians to report a patient's motivations for seeking an abortion.
"Doctors should not be placed in the position of interrogating their patients," said Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner.
The bill would require doctors performing abortions in Kentucky to certify in writing that, to their knowledge, their patient did not want to end her pregnancy because of concern over her unborn child's sex, race, color, national origin or disability.
Doctors violating the measure would face felony prosecution and the loss of their medical license. Any clinic where a violation occurred would lose its license. Pregnant women would not face penalties. Kentucky has one abortion clinic, located in Louisville.
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky have aggressively pushed to restrict abortion since the GOP took total control of the legislature in 2017
The highest-profile bill being considered this year would ban most abortions in Kentucky once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Another would ban most abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.
The state already is defending three abortion-related laws in federal court