With no veto from governor, ‘Born Alive’ bill becomes law

Published 10:37 am Saturday, January 23, 2021

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By Tom Latek

Kentucky Today

The third time was the charm for a pro-life measure passed by the Kentucky General Assembly during the first week of the 2021 session.

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Senate Bill 9, known as the “Born Alive” bill, won final passage by lawmakers during a rare Saturday session earlier this month.

Because Gov. Andy Beshear did not sign it and did not veto it, it automatically was enacted, 10 days after it was sent to the governor’s desk.

“Whether it’s an abortion that didn’t work, or a premature birth, or whatever the circumstance might be, if a child is born alive, it must be given medical care consistent with whatever its needs are,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. “This doesn’t change the standard of care, it doesn’t establish what that care must be, because medical professionals need to make that decision where they are at that moment, under the circumstances.”

Opponents said they feared it would cause OB-GYN physicians to decline to treat patients with a risky pregnancy since they would face loss of their medical license and a possible one to five-year prison sentence, if found guilty of violating the law, a Class D felony.

Twenty-eight states have a similar law, including four of Kentucky’s neighbors: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee.

This is the third time Westerfield has sponsored a Born Alive bill. In 2019 it cleared the Senate and a House committee, but never received a vote on the floor of the House. In 2020, the measure, which was also designated SB 9, easily won passage in both chambers but was vetoed by the governor. Since lawmakers had already adjourned the session, they were unable to take a vote to override the veto.

While most bills don’t become law until 90 days after the General Assembly adjourns, the “Born Alive” bill contained an emergency clause, so it takes effect immediately.

Dr. Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, thanked legislators for pushing the bill.

“I am grateful for the work of Sen. Whitney Westerfield and our legislators to defend the life of the unborn in Kentucky,” he said. “This is one more step in the right direction of abolishing the human rights atrocity that is legalized abortion on demand in Kentucky.”

The same day lawmakers adopted the Born Alive bill, a second pro-life measure, House Bill 2, which would allow the Kentucky attorney general to pursue civil and criminal charges against abortion providers who violate state law without having to wait for certification from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, also gained final approval.

HB 2 was vetoed by Beshear, and in his veto message he wrote: “Given the divergent views on this legal medical procedure, it is also critical to have an impartial regulator.”

Lawmakers have the opportunity to take a vote that would override the veto when they return to Frankfort, Feb. 2.