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Tempers flared. Tears flowed. Men shouldn't have sex? Kentucky House passes abortion bill

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 2/16/2019 By Daniel Desrochers, Lexington Herald-Leader
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Anti-abortion activists from around the U.S. gather in Washington, D.C. Jan. 18, 2019 for the annual 'March for Life.' © Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS Anti-abortion activists from around the U.S. gather in Washington, D.C. Jan. 18, 2019 for the annual 'March for Life.'

FRANKFORT, Ky. - One lawmaker compared abortion to a holocaust. Another suggested that all men in the legislature should abstain from sex. But by the end of an emotional debate in the Kentucky House of Representatives Friday, almost 70 percent of the body voted for a bill that would ban abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Abortion is not a divisive issue in this state; the people of Kentucky are overwhelmingly against abortion," said Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas. "House Bill 148 will serve as a message from the people of Kentucky to the Supreme Court and every other state. The message is this: If you allow us to protect life, we will protect all unborn life."

The debate on the floor indicated otherwise. Several lawmakers were emotional as they made their arguments for or against the bill, including some who were brought to tears. The abortion debate has only gotten louder in recent months, with laws in New York and Virginia that have fired up anti-abortion advocates. Several lawmakers mentioned those bills, saying the two states were taking abortion rights to the extreme.

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Kentuckians think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

The bill creates a trigger so that if the Supreme Court either overturns or alters Roe v. Wade, it would be illegal for someone to perform an abortion in Kentucky. Fischer, the sponsor of the bill, said it would not criminalize women who sought an abortion and it would not make Plan B, a pill women can take after sex to prevent a pregnancy, illegal.

"Making abortion illegal does not reduce abortions," said Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville. "If we are serious, if we believe in our heart of hearts, we need to follow what we know works."

The bill passed 69-20, with 11 members absent, and will be sent to the Senate. All of those who voted against the bill were Democrats. Some of those Democrats questioned whether it was appropriate to be voting for a bill based on a hypothetical.

"Lawmakers are not sent to Frankfort to legislate on hypotheticals," said Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green. "And we should not be in the business of passing a bill now that may or may not be valid based on what might or might not be handed down by the Supreme Court."

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said there would be confusion about the law in Kentucky if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

"It is irresponsible not to move forward," Nemes said. "In Kentucky, if Roe is overturned we don't know what the law is going to be. We repealed the statute that existed before Roe."

Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, said her mother chose to have her despite tough economic circumstances. She broke into tears as she encouraged members to vote for the bill.

"We can end the atrocities that are occurring now, the death of the unborn and the voiceless," Tate said. "You can proudly say, like the German people were asked after the fall of the Nazi regime, 'Grandma and Grandpa, where were you when the 61 million ... unborn children in your time were being killed by abortion,' you can proudly say 'baby, I did everything I could to stop it.'"

Another Republican lawmaker went a step further, calling abortion a holocaust.

"The holocaust is inside the womb, instead of outside the womb," said Rep. Melinda Gibbons-Prunty, R-Belton.

Some Democrats railed against the bill. Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said there are two men on the Supreme Court who don't respect women and would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, earning himself a reprimand from Speaker Pro-Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, called the bill arrogant and sanctimonious.

"We have no knowledge of what's going on in the personal, private lives of our citizens," Marzian said.

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, took it a step further, noting that the legislation says nothing in the bill "may be construed" to limit the sale of contraceptives. She asked why the word was may instead of shall.

"To my 73 male colleagues in this chamber, you better give up sex because you may fertilize an egg," Palumbo said.

Tate, the Meade County Republican, thanked the men in the chamber who were supporting the bill.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank you for not giving up," Tate said. "You have accepted your role of protector of life well and I encourage you to stay strong."

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