Abortion could be prosecuted as a homicide under a new Kentucky bill

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A Republican lawmaker from Louisville has proposed legislation that would let the state prosecute a person for criminal homicide if they get an illegal abortion.

State Rep. Emily Callaway, who defeated former Democratic Rep. Jeff Donohue in November's election, filed House Bill 300 on Tuesday as the Kentucky legislature continues its annual session.

Abortion is banned in Kentucky right now, with exceptions only for life-threatening health risks.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, telegraphed Tuesday evening that Callaway's proposal won't get far in the legislature.

"We are aware of Rep. Emily Callaway's bill. However, in the history of our commonwealth, the Kentucky General Assembly has never passed a pro-life measure that did not take into consideration the necessity for any exceptions, nor has this House Majority Caucus ever contemplated doing so."

The anti-abortion organization Kentucky Right to Life publicly opposed Callaway's bill on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the group is "greatly concerned" that under this legislation "all parties to the abortion, including the mother of the child, would face criminal charges."

"We oppose any legislative and policy initiatives that criminalize women who seek abortions," executive director Addia Wuchner said. "Furthermore, we respectfully urge members of the Kentucky (General) Assembly to reject HB 300 as written."

More:Who can be convicted of a crime for abortion under Kentucky's trigger law?

Callaway's bill generally would apply "the same legal principles as would apply to the homicide of a person who had been born alive" to cases involving a fetus. That could apply to a range of situations, not just those involving an abortion.

The bill makes exceptions for "a lawful medical procedure" performed by a licensed physician to save a pregnant woman's life "that results in the accidental or unintentional death of the unborn child." It also wouldn't allow prosecutions for a "spontaneous miscarriage" involving the "natural or accidental termination of a pregnancy."

Asked for comment on the bill as she headed into House chambers on Wednesday, Callaway said "the bill kind of speaks for itself."

Kentucky's current “trigger” law, which almost completely prohibits abortion, says that someone who receives an illegal abortion can’t be subjected to “any criminal conviction and penalty" under that particular statute.

Legal experts told The Courier Journal last year that this is a key protection, although theoretically a prosecutor could try to pursue charges against someone who got an illegal abortion based on other laws.

Heather Gatnarek, the ACLU of Kentucky's senior staff attorney, said Tuesday night that Callaway's legislation "certainly seems different from the other (abortion) bills that have passed in recent years in that it doesn’t seem to explicitly exempt pregnant people from being prosecuted."

HB 300 is "absurd and offensive and dangerous," she told The Courier Journal. "It's just so far afield from what we know Kentuckians want and what they need. We know people still need access to abortions."

More:Could Kentucky abolish the death penalty in 2023? Here's where lawmakers stand

The Kentucky Supreme Court is weighing whether to temporarily suspend the trigger law, as well as a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, until a broader lawsuit challenging those laws’ constitutionality is decided. It hasn’t yet issued a ruling. (The ACLU is involved in the suit against those abortion laws.)

Osborne indicated Tuesday that Kentuckians can expect to see new abortion-related legislation, other than Callaway's bill, during this year's session.

"While we await the Kentucky Supreme Court's ruling on the existing law, we continue to have legitimate discussions on future policy," he said. "As a result, we anticipate additional legislation will be filed in the coming days, including bills that will provide further exceptions."

Attorney General Daniel Cameron − who's defending the trigger law and six-week abortion ban in that court case − opposed Callaway's bill in a statement Wednesday, saying "this legislation strikes the wrong balance."

"While I strongly support prohibiting abortions in Kentucky, I just as strongly support helping pregnant women," said Cameron, who is running for governor in May's Republican primary. "Pregnant mothers deserve our help, support, and life-affirming options, not to face criminal charges."

Reach reporter Morgan Watkins at mwatkins@courierjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Illegal abortions would be charged as murder under new Kentucky bill