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State Laws

Kentucky


Political Information

Executive (Governor)

Pro-choice

Senate

Anti-choice

House

Anti-choice

Abortion-Care Policies

Abortion Providers

Abortion Providers: Restrictions

Kentucky imposes extra restrictions on abortion providers, despite the fact that all health-care providers already must comply with a variety of federal and state regulations governing health, safety, building and fire codes, and zoning requirements.  

Restrictions on Where Abortion Services May Be Provided

Kentucky places medically unnecessary restrictions on where abortion services may be provided.

Providers of abortion services at any stage of pregnancy-including private physicians-must comply with a uniquely imposed licensure scheme not required of other medical providers.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 216B.015, 216B.020(2)(b) (Original Statute Enacted 1980; Relevant Provision Enacted 1998), Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann §§ 216B.0431 (Enacted 1998), 216B.0435 (Enacted 1998); 902 Ky. Admin. Regs. 20:360.

Every abortion facility must enter into a written agreement with a hospital and an ambulance service in which the hospital and ambulance service each agree in advance to accept and treat patients if complications arise.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 216B.0435 (Enacted 1998).  Nothing in the statute requires hospitals or ambulance services to agree to enter into such agreements.

There is ongoing litigation resulting from the state threatening to revoke a clinic’s license, alleging that the clinic’s agreements with a hospital and ambulance service were technically deficient, even though the state approved those same agreements in the clinic’s 2016  license renewal. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Glisson

Providers are subject to unannounced inspections at any time.  902 Ky. Admin. Regs. 20:360 § 2(4)(a); Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 216B.042(2) (Original Statute Enacted 1982; Relevant Provision Enacted 1994).  The regulations make no reference to patient privacy or confidentiality.

Restrictions on Who May Provide Abortion Services

Kentucky prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion services.

Only a physician licensed by the state to practice medicine or osteopathy, or the woman upon herself upon the advice of a licensed physician during the first trimester, may provide abortion.  Only a licensed physician may provide abortion after the first trimester.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.750 (Enacted 1974), Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.760 (Enacted 1974; Last Amended 1982), Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.720(9) (Enacted 1974; Last Amended 1982).  An additional statute provides that only a physician may provide abortion services.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.723(1) (Enacted 1982).  A court has ruled that this provision is unconstitutional because it conflicts with §311.760, which allows the woman to terminate a pregnancy herself during the first trimester, thereby subjecting the physician and woman to confusion and uncertainty regarding their rights.  Eubanks v. Brown, 604 F. Supp. 141 (W.D. Ky. 1984).


Abortion Rights

Post-Viability Ban

Kentucky’s post-viability abortion restriction states that no abortion may be provided after viability unless necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.  The attending physician must take all reasonable steps consistent with reasonable medical practices to preserve the life and health of the fetus.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 311.780 (Enacted 1974), 311.720(10) (Enacted 1974).

A court has held that this law is constitutional.  Wolfe v. Schroering, 388 F. Supp. 631 (W.D. Ky. 1974).

NARAL Pro-Choice America supports the legal framework established in Roe v. Wade and does not oppose restrictions on post-viability abortions, such as Kentucky’s, that contain adequate exceptions to protect the woman’s life and health.


Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy: Procedure Ban

Kentucky has an unconstitutional and unenforceable ban that outlaws abortion procedures as early as 12 weeks.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 311.595 (Enacted 1998), 311.720 (Enacted 1998), 311.765 (Enacted 1998), 311.990 (Enacted 1998).

A court held that Kentucky’s ban is unconstitutionally overbroad and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting its enforcement.  Eubanks v. Stengel, 224 F.3d 576 (6th Cir. 2000).  The U.S. Supreme Court held that a similar ban that has no exception to protect a woman’s health and that bans more than one procedure is unconstitutional.  Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000).  

Kentucky’s unconstitutional and unenforceable ban makes the provision of any abortion procedure that falls within a broad definition, unless necessary to preserve the life of a woman endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, a felony and subjects physicians to disciplinary action by the State Board of Medical Licensure,  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 311.595 (Enacted 1998), 311.720 (Enacted 1998), 311.765 (Enacted 1998), 311.990 (Enacted 1998).  

There is also a Federal Abortion Ban, which applies nationwide regardless of state law.  The federal ban prohibits certain second-trimester abortion procedures and has no exception for a woman’s health.  In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, making it the first time since Roe v. Wade that the court has upheld a ban on a previability abortion procedure.


Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy: Procedure Ban

Kentucky outlaws the use of a D&E (dilation and evacuation) procedure unless it is necessary to save the woman’s life. The D&E procedure is the most commonly used method for second-trimester abortion. Its illegality would cause women to have to undergo more invasive and potentially more dangerous procedures. The law also goes further than most other states with D&E bans by also establishing that an abortion cannot be provided beyond 11 weeks gestation. Any provider who violates the law is subject to one to five years in prison. H.B. 454, 152nd Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2018).

Litigators have filed suit against the law; the law has been temporarily enjoined via joint consent order pending a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Beshear, 3:18-cv-224-JHM, (W.D. Ky, 2018).


Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy: Ban by Week

Kentucky outlaws abortion after 20 weeks without an adequate exception to protect women’s health, cases in which the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or in cases of fetal anomaly.  Ky Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 311.760 (Enacted 1980; Last Amended 1982), 311.710 (Enacted 1974; Last Amended 1982).

Kentucky’s law makes abortion after 20 weeks a felony, unless necessary to save a woman’s life or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.  Physicians in violation of the law would be guilty of a Class D felony which carries a jail sentence of one year or longer.  In addition, the law allows the woman or the man involved in the pregnancy to bring a civil suit for damages against the physician.  It also establishes a litigation trust fund—that may include state funding, gifts, or grants—for the state to fight such cases. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 311.595 (Enacted 2017), 311.990 (Enacted 2017), S. 5, 151st  Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ky. 2017).  


Abortion Bans Throughout Pregnancy: Ban by Week

In 2019, Kentucky passed an unconstitutional and unenforceable ban that outlaws and criminalizes abortion procedures as early as 6 weeks without an adequate exception to protect women’s health.* Prior to providing abortion care, a physician is required to provide an external ultrasound to determine if a fetal "heartbeat" is present. Violations of the law are a Class D Felony, punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years. Additionally, the law gives authority to bring a cause of action against the physician. KY ST § 311.7706.

*This law is currently enjoined while a lawsuit challenging the law proceeds. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Beshear, 2019 WL 1233575 (W.D.Ky. 2019).


Reasons-Based Ban: Race- and/or Sex Selection

Kentucky bans abortion if sought in whole or in part for the reasons of the race or sex of the pregnancy or the race of a parent. Any physician that performs such an abortion is guilty of a class D felony, liable in a civil action, and subject to medical license suspension or revocation. KY ST § 311.731 (Enacted 2019).

This law has been temporarily enjoined as litigation proceeds. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Beshear, 2019 WL 1233575 (W.D.Ky. 2019).


Reasons-Based Ban: Fetal Anomaly

Kentucky bans abortion if sought in whole or in part for the reasons of a diagnosis, or potential diagnosis, of down syndrome or any other disability. Any physician that performs such an abortion is guilty of a class D felony punishable with one (1) to five (5) years imprisonment, liable in a civil action, and subject to medical license suspension or revocation. KY ST § 311.731 (Enacted 2019).

This law has been temporarily enjoined as litigation proceeds. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Beshear, 2019 WL 1233575 (W.D.Ky. 2019).


Near-Total Abortion Ban

In 2019, Kentucky passed a near-total ban on abortion, to become effective if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. KY ST § 311.772 (Enacted 2019).


Biased Counseling

Biased Counseling

Kentucky law requires providers to provide biased-counseling information on medically unproven "abortion reversals." The law requires that the information be orally communicated to a pregnant person 24 hours before their abortion, that the information be included in printed biased-counseling materials, and that the counseling must include where additional information can be obtained and contact information for a doctor they may contact. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.725 (Last Amended 2019)


Biased Counseling

Kentucky has a law that provides that a woman may not obtain an abortion until at least 24 hours after a physician, nurse, physician’s assistant, or social worker orally tells her:  (1) the probable gestational age of the fetus; (2) the nature of the proposed procedure, its risks, and alternatives; and (3) the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

In addition, at least 24 hours prior to an abortion she must receive a state-mandated lecture by a physician, nurse, physician’s assistant, or social worker, individually and in a private setting, that includes:  (1) she has a right to review state-prepared materials; (2) medical assistance may be available for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care; and (3) the "father" of the fetus is liable for child support even if he offered to pay for an abortion.

At least 24 hours prior to an abortion, the woman must be given, if she chooses to view them, state-prepared materials that must include:  (1) the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus at two-week gestational increments for the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and at four-week increments from the 17th week to full term, including pictures or photographs; (2) information about public and private agencies and services, including but not limited to adoption, available assistance during pregnancy, upon childbirth, and while a child is dependent, including a comprehensive list of such agencies; and (3) information about medical assistance benefits for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care and the father’s liability for child support. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.725 (Enacted 1998).

Although a court held that this law is constitutional, Eubanks v. Schmidt, 126 F.Supp.2d 451 (W.D. Ky. 2000), an order prohibits the state from enforcing the law to require in-person receipt of the state-mandated information and materials.  Eubanks v. Schmidt, No. 01CI01440 (Ky. Cir. Ct. Jefferson County Jan. 11, 2002) (agreed order).  The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has interpreted this law to allow telephone counseling and mail receipt of the state-prepared materials.  Letter from Danny Clark, President, Ky. Bd. of Med. Licensure, to Cynthia Blevins Doll (Oct. 1, 2001).

Kentucky also has a law requiring providers to perform an ultrasound on a patient prior to obtaining informed consent. The law forces to perform an ultrasound with visual and audible while simultaneously explaining what the ultrasound depicts even if the woman refuses. HB 2 (2017). The law was challenged by an abortion clinic in Kentucky. The District Court enjoined the law but was reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2019, the United States Supreme Court denied the clinic’s petition for writ of certiorari meaning the law will stay in effect. EMW Women’s Surgical Center v. Beshear, 2019 WL 6689678 (U.S. 2019).


Mandatory Delays

Mandatory Delay

Kentucky requires a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 24 hours between the time she receives biased-counseling materials and when she can get the procedure. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.725 (Enacted 1998).

Although a court held that this law is constitutional, Eubanks v. Schmidt, 126 F.Supp.2d 451 (W.D. Ky. 2000), an order prohibits the state from enforcing the law to require in-person receipt of the state-mandated information and materials.  Eubanks v. Schmidt, No. 01CI01440 (Ky. Cir. Ct. Jefferson County Jan. 11, 2002) (agreed order).  The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has interpreted this law to allow telephone counseling and mail receipt of the state-prepared materials.  Letter from Danny Clark, President, Ky. Bd. of Med. Licensure, to Cynthia Blevins Doll (Oct. 1, 2001).


Insurance Coverage for Abortion

Prohibits Abortion Coverage in the State

Does Kentucky prohibit statewide private insurance coverage of abortion services?

Yes.  Private health-insurance contracts, plans, or policies offered in the state may not include abortion coverage, with an exception only to save a woman’s life.  Abortion coverage may be obtained only through an optional rider for which an additional premium is paid.  However, insurers are not required to offer such riders and there is no evidence that such separate policies exist. (Even if they did exist, offering women the "option" to pay for separate abortion coverage is a false promise because no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy.)  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 304.5-160 (Enacted 1978).


Prohibits Abortion Coverage for Public Employees

Does Kentucky expressly prohibit insurance plans for public employees from covering abortion services?

Yes.  Health-insurance plans provided to state employees may not include abortion coverage.  No state funds may be used for abortion for state employees or their dependents.  Nothing in the law prohibits the purchase of abortion coverage through an optional rider for which an additional premium is paid.  However, insurers are not required to offer such riders and there is no evidence that such separate policies exist. (Even if they did exist, offering women the "option" to pay for separate abortion coverage is a false promise because no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy.)  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18A.225 (10) (Original Statute Enacted 1982; Relevant Provision Enacted 1996; Last Amended 2002).


Abortion Coverage for Low-Income People

Restricts Low-Income Women’s Access to Abortion

Kentucky prohibits public funding for abortion for women eligible for state medical assistance for general health care unless the procedure is necessary to preserve the life of a woman or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  KyHealth Choices Member Handbook, at 18 (Last updated Dec. 3, 2007) at http://chfs.ky.gov/dms/incorporated.htm; Dep’t for Medicaid Servs., Hospital Services Manual, Section IV, Program Coverage, Transmittal #19, 43 (Apr. 21, 1993); Dep’t for Medicaid Servs., Physician Manual, Section IV, Program Coverage, Transmittal #26, 4.30 (Mar. 30, 1999); Dep’t for Medicaid Servs., Certification Form for Induced Abortion or Induced Miscarriage, MAP-235 (Feb. 2000); Dep’t for Medicaid Servs., Physician’s Certification Regarding an Abortion Procedure Performed for the Purpose of Terminating a Pregnancy Caused by an Act of Rape or Incest (undated).

An invalid and enjoined statute provides that a woman eligible for state medical assistance may not obtain public funds to pay for an abortion unless the procedure is necessary to preserve her life.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.715 (Enacted 1980; Last Amended 1984).

In 1994, the Kentucky attorney general issued an opinion stating that the statute should not be enforced because it conflicted with federal law requiring state Medicaid programs to provide funding for the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.  Ky. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 94-4 (Feb. 2, 1994).  Two years later, a court agreed, issuing a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the statute to the extent that it conflicts with federal law.  Hope v. Childers, No. 3:95CV-518-A (W.D. Ky. Feb. 2, 1996).


Young People & Abortion

Parental Consent

Kentucky law restricts young women’s access to abortion.

Is the law enforceable?  Yes.

Who is considered a minor?  A young woman under the age of 18 who has never been married or freed by court order from the care, custody, and control of her parents.

What is required – parental consent or parental notice?  Consent.

Who must provide consent?  One parent.

Are there other trusted adults who may provide consent instead?  No.

What is the process for obtaining consent?  A young woman may not obtain an abortion unless the attending physician secures written consent from one parent.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman is a victim of rape or incest?  No.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman is a victim of child abuse?  No.

May the parental mandate be waived if a young woman’s health is threatened?  Yes, but only if the attending physician certifies in writing that a "medical emergency exists that so complicates the pregnancy as to require an immediate abortion."

May the parental mandate be waived under any other circumstances?  Yes, the young woman may try to obtain permission from a judge.

If a young woman must obtain permission from a judge, what is the process?  She must secure a court order stating either that she is mature and well informed enough to make her own decision or that an abortion is in her best interests.

Are there other significant requirements under the law?  No.

Has a court considered the constitutionality of this law?  No.

Other information about the law:  None.

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.732 (Enacted 1982; Last Amended 2005).


Family-Planning Policies

Insurance Coverage & Contraception

No state measure.

Contraception Coverage for Low-Income People

No state measure.

Emergency Contraception

No state measure.

Other Important Issues

Clinic Protections

No state measure.

Refusals & Guarantees

Refusals of Medical Care

ABORTION REFUSAL CLAUSE

Kentucky allows certain individuals or entities to refuse to provide abortion services.

To whom does the refusal clause apply?  Hospitals, physicians, nurses, hospital staff members, or employees of a hospital or health-care facility.

What does the refusal clause allow?  Allows physicians, nurses, hospital staff members, or employees of a hospital or health-care facility who object on moral, religious, or professional grounds to refuse to participate in abortion services.  The willingness or refusal of a person to participate may not be a basis for liability, penalty, disciplinary action, or denial of public funds, licenses, or certifications, and no agency, institution, or person may discriminate in employment or education on these grounds unless it is a health-care facility operated exclusively for the purpose of providing abortion care.

Allows private health-care facilities or private hospitals to refuse to permit abortion care, if such care is contrary to its stated ethical policy.  The refusal of a private health-care facility or private hospital to permit abortion care may not be a basis for liability, penalty, disciplinary action, or denial or limitation of public funds.

Must the refusal be in writing?  The physician, nurse, hospital staff member, or employee of a hospital or health-care facility who objects to participating must do so in writing.

Does the law require the refusing individual or entity to notify the persons affected?  No.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised?  No.

Does the law require the refusing individual or entity to provide medically and factually accurate information or provide a referral for abortion services?  No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to otherwise obtain specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals if an individual and/or entity exercises a refusal clause?  No.

Has a court considered the constitutionality of this law?  With respect to a previous version of this statute, a court held that private hospitals, facilities, physicians, nurses, and employees, but not public hospitals, constitutionally may refuse to permit abortion services on the basis of conscience.  Wolfe v. Schroering, 541 F.2d 523 (6th Cir. 1976).

Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 311.800 (Enacted 1980).


Counseling & Referral Bans

Counseling & Referral Ban

Every hospital with emergency-room services shall have a physician or sexual-assault nurse available to examine survivors of sexual offenses reported to a law-enforcement agency.  Such examinations must include emergency-room treatment, evidence-gathering services, tests, and information about services for treatment of sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, and other medical problems.  The pregnancy counseling provided to survivors of reported sexual offenses may not include abortion counseling or referral.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 216B.400 (Enacted 1974; Last Amended 2006).

A school district shall not operate a family-resource center or a youth-services center that provides abortion counseling or makes referrals to a health-care facility for the purpose of seeking abortion services.  Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 156.496 (Enacted 2008); Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 156.4975 (Enacted 2005; Last Amended 2008).


Everyone should be able to decide if, when, how, and with whom they start or grow a family.

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