House amends informed consent legislation, adding video consultation in 92-3 vote

01/29/2016 12:02 AM

FRANKFORT — After about a week of procedural maneuvering, the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill twice amended Thursday requiring women seeking an abortion to consult with a physician 24 hours before the procedure.

The House added an option for real-time video conferencing to Senate Bill 4 in a 92-3 vote, meaning women would either use that or meet with medical staff before having an abortion.

The legislation cleared some last-minute hoops — a special Health and Welfare Committee meeting after a lengthy caucus recess Thursday afternoon followed by a technical correction in a floor amendment — and both party leaders hailed the vote as a victory, but for different reasons.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called SB 4 “a wonderful piece of compromise legislation.”

“I think that what you have before you today is a reflection of the way that representative Democracy ought to work, that warring factions ought to come together, emotionally charged factions that believe in all of their heart that they’re right and the other side’s wrong come together and figure out a way to bridge the gap and get to the point that you want to get to in a fair an equitable manner,” he said.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said informed consent is an issue that many in the Republican and Democratic caucuses wanted to address. He attempted to have SB 4 heard in a committee of the whole on Wednesday and drew four Democrats to side with 45 Republicans, two votes shy of a constitutional majority.

“It’s a historic day for us to pass this legislation,” Hoover said.

Hoover cried foul after SB 4 sailed through an unscheduled House Health and Welfare Committee meeting on Thursday.

The panel had met earlier in the day but did not consider a similar bill previously on its agenda in Rep. Kelly Flood’s House Bill 286. Flood withdrew her legislation before the SB 4 vote.

The version of SB 4 that passed the House committee would have allowed patients to receive real-time video consultations in pre-abortion meetings with physicians in another section of the law, but Hoover successfully added a floor amendment that left changes only to the original portion of the bill.

“All of you watching here today and every member on this floor, you know there was no legitimate discussion on maybe the most important bill to the people of Kentucky that we will vote on this session,” Hoover said. “No legitimate discussion.”

He said the committee-passed version of the bill amended pre-abortion guidelines for physicians in state law, not informed consent. Stumbo said the bill could be revised before becoming law but supported Hoover’s floors amendment, and an agreement on SB 4, as “a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Hoover said his caucus was comfortable with the idea of real-time video consultations a day before abortion procedures.

“It’s not something that is recorded,” he said. “It is real-time video consultation, and with the change in technology and just where we are in society today in technology, most of our guys said that’s sufficient.”

He said he had already spoken with Senate President Robert Stivers, “and they’re interested in getting the bill back and they will have a discussion about it.”

“I’m hopeful they’ll concur with the one little change that was made and Gov. Bevin can sign that into law next week,” Hoover said.

Not everyone supported SB 4. Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, was one of three Democrats who voted against the legislation.

She called the floor vote “purely a political vote” and said the legislature could take other steps to improve the lives of everyone in Kentucky, such as raising the state minimum wage and restoring voting rights. She also said the state should improve age-appropriate sex education in schools.

“I would argue that this is not one of the most important bills of this commonwealth, and I respect the dignity of women in this state that have educations or don’t have educations but know what their bodies are about and make decisions for themselves with the help of their families, their clergy and their doctor,” Marzian said.

Derek Selznick, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky Reproductive Freedom project, said the bill adds an unnecessary barrier for those seeking abortions.

SB 4 “remains an attempt by legislators to interfere with patients and the care they deserve from medical care providers, masquerading itself as bill that helps Kentucky women,” he said in a statement.

“While the inclusion of language embracing new technologies allowing patients easier and more convenient access to counseling is admirable, and an idea whose time has come, we remain strongly opposed to this legislation,” Selznick continued. “Legislators were not elected to provide medical advice or care to Kentucky women and should have greater respect for the women and medical professionals they represent.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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