In Kentucky, This Is What the War on Abortion Rights Looks Like

kentucky_abortion_clinic_0413

By Lucy Westcott On 4/16/17 at 8:20 AM

Saturday is usually the busiest day for protests outside EMW Women’s Clinic in Louisville, the last remaining abortion provider in Kentucky that came dangerously close to shutting down last week.

As women walk to and from the clinic and the parking lot, volunteers dressed in bright orange vests walk alongside them, forming a human barrier against an angry and increasingly violent mass of protesters yelling hateful remarks and waving signs. One protester likes to shove her sign into the escorts’ faces. Another, known as Backwards Bob, preaches at the women as he walks backwards in front of them, forcing himself into their line of vision.

Kate Lafferty, a graduate student and volunteer at the clinic, says escorts are posted at different points in a one-block radius around the clinic where patients walk, including on street corners or in an alleyway that leads to a parking garage. On a Saturday in late March, Lafferty was one of 45 escorts at EMW protecting the women seeking abortions from roughly 75 yelling, crying and preaching protesters.

“We’re always in sight of one another,” she says. “You see the familiar [protesters] and it’s definitely shocking.”

A federal judge ruled this week that the Kentucky clinic serving thousands of women annually can stay open—for now. But state lawmakers are looking to shut down the facility in a move that would make Kentucky, which already has some of the strictest laws limiting women’s reproductive healthcare, the only state in the nation without an abortion clinic.

The battle in Kentucky reflects renewed efforts across the nation from Republican-led state legislatures and a GOP majority in Congress to limit women’s right to abortion access. The assault is also coming from the new White House, where President Donald Trump signed a bill Thursday allowing states to withhold federal Title X family planning funding from Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions.

“Those of us who have been involved with access to abortion since the 1970s know that we’re more facing pre-Roe v. Wade days now than making any progress,” says Kate Cunningham, president of A Fund, an all-volunteer organization that has been helping Kentucky women pay for abortions since 1993. “Before Roe, there were women driving through the night to take women from Louisville to New York to access abortion. We hope and trust we don’t have to go back there, to those days, but that’s where we are. It’s so tough.”

In Kentucky, lawmakers argue that the Louisville clinic violates state requirements that such facilities have emergency medical agreements with a hospital and an ambulance service. Abortion rights activists note these kind of rules are excessive and not medically necessary, and in March, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Louisville clinic to try to keep it open.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers issued a temporary restraining order in March against the state of Kentucky, which had threatened to shut down the clinic on April 3. That move would have made Kentucky the first state without a legal provider. Stivers then signed an order Monday to keep the clinic open until the lawsuit is resolved, and the clinic’s license has been renewed through May 31, 2018. The trial is set to begin in the first week of September.

If Kentucky does become the first state to lose all providers, it would result in even bigger barriers for women, says Elizabeth Nash, state issues experts at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank based in New York. Not only will women have to travel longer distances to receive care, but clinics in surrounding states will have a bigger demand that will likely result in longer waiting times for an extremely time-sensitive procedure.

“Travel costs money, so do hotel rooms,” says Nash. “Not everybody gets paid time off. Essentially, you would be losing out on earning money. It balloons.”

But order or not, getting a termination remains an enormous challenge in Kentucky. Lafferty, 29, has been escorting at EMW for the past four months with her husband, Patrick Danner. Originally from New Jersey, she says it was a jolt to arrive in Kentucky and see how difficult it is to obtain an abortion compared to her home state and most of the northeastern United States.

“Having people preaching at you, holding up signs,” she says. “That was definitely a shock to me.”

Lafferty says she’s been called a murderer and told by protesters that women’s bodies are only good for one thing: reproducing. “Clients are quite shocked” by it, too, she says.

Fausta Luchini, 61, has volunteered as a clinic escort at EMW for the past eight years. During that time, she has seen the situation outside the clinic deteriorate as protesters have become increasingly aggressive. Photos sent by Luchini to Newsweek show protesters shoving large signs in escorts’ face, or getting uncomfortably close.

“The goal of escorts is to hold space for the client so the client is empowered to do what they want to do. That means that we really ignore, or do the best we can to ignore, the protesters,” says Luchini. “Many clients are really upset. Being with somebody and doing that walk with somebody who is crying, who is just in distress; emotionally, it can be difficult that way.”

“Chasers,” or protesters who follow patients and talk, preach or cry at them, all while invading their personal space, are another issue for Luchini and the women she escorts. “One in particular likes to walk in front of them and walk backwards,” she says. “We call him Backwards Bob.”

Once, the protesters discovered Luchini’s name, Googled her and found her mother’s obituary, which was read out to her during an escorting session.

“That was kind of bizarre,” she says. “That was unsettling.”

Related: Kentucky’s last clinic saved from ‘imminent closure’

Part of Luchini’s job as an escort is figuring out the safest way to move patients from their car to the clinic while avoiding protesters who have become increasingly aggressive. Although there’s an eight-foot safety barrier between the clinic and the protesters, EMW opens onto the street, meaning demonstrators can essentially stand anywhere except inside the building. The majority of the patients Luchini escorts come from Kentucky, although some travel from Indiana, which has 11 abortion clinics in all, but only 44 percent of all women live in counties with such facilities.

A spokesperson for the Psalms 82 (P82), a Christian anti-abortion group with a strong presence outside the Louisville clinic, tells Newsweek that its members are “not surprised at all by the judge’s order to keep [EMW] open. We expected it.” The group is known to film clients as they go to their appointments, says Lafferty.

Nash says Kentucky is one of seven states that have a single abortion provider left, joining West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi and Wyoming. It’s part of a decades-long decline in abortion providers, whether it’s due to better access to contraceptives — and therefore fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions — or state-level regulations that have kept new doctors from becoming abortion providers.

“The political landscape has changed in Kentucky and the Legislature has now made it its business to not only restrict abortion access through legislation, but also restrictions to family planning services,” says Nash, citing a recent law in Kentucky allowing the state to withhold state funds to clinics, including Planned Parenthood, that provide only family planning services. “There’s a real landscape change for reproductive health in Kentucky.”

Kentucky women unable to pay for a termination in their home state can obtain help from Cunningham’s A Fund. Last year, the organization helped 416 Kentucky women pay for abortions in seven states, including Kentucky; in 2015, that number was 314, says Cunningham. The average fiscal assistance provided by A Fund last year was $114, ranging from payments of $50 to $2,000.

“Many women find it more geographically convenient to go out of state for an abortion than come to Louisville,” says Cunningham.

Women in western Kentucky might go to Granite City, Illinois, while those in Bowling Green might go to Nashville, Tennessee. Women in northern Kentucky tend to travel to Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio for their abortions, and women in southeastern Kentucky go to Knoxville, Tennessee.

“Those states also have rather arduous so-called informed consent requirements, so women have to go and stay for a couple of days or make a couple of trips,” says Cunningham. “There’s nothing easy about it.”

Don Cox, a lawyer for EMW, is looking ahead to the first week of September, when the court case is set to begin. He says it’s “irrational that we should have to waste our time and effort dealing with stupid regulations and statutes like these.”

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Cunningham, in the meantime, says she’s working with escorts and others to try and establish at 20-ft safety zone at the clinic’s entrance to better protect the “heroic” volunteers. Until then, EMW escorts will continue donning orange vests and walking women to the clinic doors, protecting their constitutional right to have a termination.

“When a woman comes to EMW to get an abortion, she has already overcome some tremendous barriers,” says Luchini. “The protesters are just the last hurdle. They don’t see themselves that way, but that’s all they are.”

“It’s the last thing they gotta conquer.”

CONTINUE READING…

(KY) Senate Week in Review

Submitted By Reginald Thomas

FRANKFORT— It may have been a “short session” in the number of days, but the 2017 Legislative Session was not “short” on important public policy changes. Last week, we completed the 29th and 30th days of the session by voting on significant issues in the areas of education, criminal justice reform, and government accountability.

Some bills were passed and others were defeated in the last two legislative days. The General Assembly had a major victory when we were able to move forward with important legislation that the Governor attempted to halt. We voted to override the Governor’s vetoes – all four of them. In my time in Frankfort, overriding all of a Governor’s vetoes is something that had not happened before.

The Governor’s four vetoes dealt with court-ordered treatment for mentally ill people with a history of involuntary hospitalization (known as Tim’s Law), the regulation of drones, the manner of disbursing funds from a multimillion-dollar legal settlement with Volkswagen, and the naming of roads in various parts of the state. All four of these vetoes were successfully overridden in the Senate and House by wide margins.

With time waning, some new bills did pass and were delivered to the Governor’s desk, including a wide-reaching education reform policy that would change how our public schools are held accountable for student progress and how teachers are evaluated. Among other goals, Senate Bill 1 is designed to place more control and accountability in the hands of local school districts, enabling them to have a stronger voice in how to improve performance by both students and teachers, and will hopefully help school districts to turn their low-performing schools around.

Other bills that passed last week, which will become law when signed by the Governor, include:

· Senate Bill 120 is a criminal justice reform bill that will help people leaving prison successfully rejoin society by providing them with employable skills. The measure includes provisions to remove licensing restrictions that make it harder for felons to find jobs. It also makes improvements in reentry substance abuse supervision.

· House Bill 253 will help protect abused children by allowing unannounced visits by state social services workers to the residences where child abuse or neglect has occurred. The unannounced visits will continue until the welfare of a child has been safeguarded.

· House Bill 524 attempts to help fight human trafficking by requiring public schools to display the National Human Trafficking Reporting Hotline information, and also will require the hotline number to be posted at rest areas. The measure will also provide for enhanced penalties for promoting human trafficking that involves commercial sexual activity making it a criminal offense against a minor if the victim is under 18.

· House Bill 309 enables tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease with 30 days’ notice to their landlords without penalties. It also prevents abuse victims from being denied a lease because of their history as domestic violence victims.

Sometimes defeating a bill is a victory as we saw in the last hours of the last day of the session. House Bill 281 would have stripped the power of Attorney General Andy Beshear and future attorney generals to file civil lawsuits or appeals on behalf of the state. That power would transfer to the governor.  No other attorney general in the country would be as weak. For example, HB 281 would have prohibited the attorney general from suing to challenge Governor Bevin’s cuts to public universities. In addition to forfeiting the checks and balances on the governor, HB 281 would have narrowed the avenues for the Commonwealth to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Attorney General is the people’s attorney and this bill would have been a threat to the state and our people.

Soon the dust will settle and the 2017 session will be another for the books. There are some major issues still looming over us and the Governor has said he will call us back to session to address tax reform and pensions. Those are two very complex issues, and, at least in my opinion, for the General Assembly to successfully address them will require the House and Senate Republicans to find a plan agreeable to both.  That hasn’t happened yet. 

In the meantime, I urge you to stay in touch. You can always leave a message on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. You can e-mail me directly at reginald.thomas@lrc.ky.gov.

2017 Rice Leach Public Health Hero Award

On a different and a more personal note, I am honored to be selected as recipient of the 2017 Rice Leach Public Health Hero Award from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department’s Board of Health. I will be recognized at the April 27 Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting and honored at the May 8 Board of Health meeting.

Previously known as the Public Health Hero Award, the Board of Health renamed the award in 2016 in memory of the late Dr. Rice C. Leach, Lexington’s former Commissioner of Health who spent more than 50 years as a public health physician. Leach died April 1, 2016. It is very humbling to receive an award named for Dr. Leach. If you would like to read more about this award, follow this link: http://www.kyforward.com/lexington-attorney-state-senator-thomas-named-rice-leach-public-health-hero-for-2017/.

Prepared by LRC Staff

Kentucky congressman says ‘Hell No’ to Obamacare replacement bill

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., listened during a committee session in 2013.

By Fernando Alfonso III

falfonso@herald-leader.com

A tweet from a Northern Kentucky congressman went viral Wednesday afternoon after he used his voting card to double down on his disdain for the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ attempt to replace Obamacare.

Rep. Thomas Massie’s tweet features a photo of his “new” voting card and the words “HELL NO” on it. Within two hours after sending the message, Massie, who manages his own Twitter account, could not believe it had collected more than 8,200 likes and 3,000 retweets.

“I didn’t expect it to go viral. I thought maybe we’d get 5 percent of that,” Massie said over the phone in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s another version of Obamacare, in my opinion, and it’s not as well thought out. We need to leave the socialism to the socialists. If I thought the bill were a glass half full proposition, better than the status quo, I’d vote for it. But I think it will make insurance premiums go up.”


Sen. Rand Paul predicts House will vote down GOP health plan

“It’s important for Republicans to understand that once we pass something, we will own it,” Sen. Rand Paul said of the GOP health care plan. “If what we pass is not going to work, it’s a bad thing to own.”

jbrammer@herald-leader.com


The AHCA would replace the subsidies in Obamacare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, with a flat tax credit that would not account for income or local insurance prices. The new law would also allow insurers to charge older people five times what they charge younger customers, compared to three times under Obama’s health care law, according to the Associated Press.

Massie, a Republican, has made his displeasure over AHCA clear on Twitter over the past week through hashtags like #sassywithmassie.

“(The proposal) just won’t work and Republicans will get blamed for escalating health insurance costs,” Massie said. “The bill doesn’t do enough to reduce the cost of health care. I feel the momentum is against the bill. I don’t see any of my colleagues changing their votes and they’ve had 24 hours to switch people from a no to a yes to no avail.”

Angry constituents confront U.S. Rep. Andy Barr about GOP health care bill

U.S. Rep Andy Barr faced angry constituents in Richmond, Ky., during a town hall on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Barr was defending the Republican proposal to replace the federal Affordable Care Act.

Daniel Desrochers ddesrochers@herald-leader.com

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso

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(KY) Senate approves bill to tighten reporting of toxicology screenings

For Immediate Release

March 14, 2017 

Senate approves bill to tighten reporting of toxicology screenings

FRANKFORT — A bill to tighten the reporting of toxicology screenings by Kentucky hospitals passed the state Senate today, clearing its way to become law pending the signature of Gov. Matt Bevin. 

House Bill 314, which was approved by the House of Representatives late last month, requires certain hospitals to report positive drug screenings to the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, including results from newborn babies who might have been exposed to controlled substances by their mothers prior to birth.  The measure is part of an ongoing effort to fight prescription drug abuse in Kentucky. 

The bill also permits federal prosecutors and medical professionals, including pharmacists, to use the state’s KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) database containing reports of misuse of controlled substances. 

“For the KASPER system to be effective,  we need to stay on top of it,” said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah. “We need every tool available to us.”

The bill passed the Senate 33-3 and now goes to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.

–END–

HB 314 :

AN ACT relating to controlled substance monitoring.
     Amend KRS 218A.202 to require certain hospitals to report positive toxicology screens to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services; permit federal prosecutors and agents to use KASPER; permit practitioners or pharmacists to review KASPER reports of birth mothers of potentially drug-exposed infants; remove a pilot program relating to real-time electronic monitoring; make other technical corrections; amend KRS 218A.240 to conform.

Charter school bill passes, goes to governor

For Immediate Release

March 15, 2017


Charter school bill passes, goes to governor

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky Senate and House each voted today in favor of legislation to allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky. The bill now goes to Gov. Matt Bevin, a supporter of charter schools, to be signed into law.

House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman and public school teacher John Carney, R-Campbellsville, HB 520 would allow local school boards to authorize public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The schools would established by contract and governed by independent boards to provide Kentucky residents with nonsectarian educational programs that “meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education,” according to the bill.

The Senate voted 23-15 this afternoon in favor of the bill. The House, which already approved a version of the legislation earlier this month, cast a 53-43 vote this evening officially accepting changes made to the bill by the Senate.

Changes to the bill approved by the Senate and the House would allow the state school board to override a local school board’s decision regarding authorization of charter schools and allow for judicial review of the state board’s decision. It would also allow mayors of the state’s two largest cities (Louisville and Lexington) to be authorizers of charter schools upon their request, and emphasize that only certified teachers and administrators approved by the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board could be hired to teach at the schools.

Other approved changes would allow, not require, charter schools to give enrollment preference to lower-income students, and would allow charter school students who cannot participate in state-sanctioned school athletics at their school to participate in sports at the traditional public school in their district, along with a few other changes.

Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Latonia, read from a Presidential Proclamation issued by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to make the case in support of charter schools in the Senate this afternoon. McDaniel quoted Obama’s proclamation as saying: “Whether created by parents and teachers or community and civic leaders, charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country.  These institutions give educators the freedom to cultivate new teaching models and develop creative methods to meet students’ needs.”

In a House debate this evening, Carney said that that public charter schools will give Kentuckians a choice in public education.

“The reality is we have a system that does not work for every child in Kentucky. We teach to the middle,” he said. “Too many folks are being left behind.”

Among those voting against HB 520 was former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green. Richards said that charter schools would be money-making ventures governed by what he described as “for-profit” companies. 

“If you believe it’s unfair for a for-profit management company to take money away from your school system, you can’t vote for this bill. And it will. These management companies have to make money, folks,” said Richards.

Following passage of HB 520, the House voted 61-34 for final passage of House Bill 471, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah. That bill would amend the 2016-2018 executive branch budget to create a funding mechanism for charter schools created under HB 520.

Bills to allow charter schools in Kentucky have been filed for consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly since 2008. No charter school bills have passed the House until this year.

–END–

(KY) Who is this legislature working for?

March 14, 2017

As this session of the General Assembly winds down, its recurring theme has been the transfer of power to those who already have it.

The dramatic rush of legislation in early January produced the new Republican majority’s crown jewel, a right-to-work law weakening the labor unions that represent Kentucky workers.

Since then, there’s been a steady redistribution of power and influence to those who already enjoy power and influence, from those who have much less of both.

Victims of nursing-home negligence and medical malpractice lost power to the nursing home and medical industries and will now have to go through “medical review panels” before taking their complaints to court.

Neighborhoods lost power to developers who were given a weapon in the form of a costly bond requirement to take disputes over zoning decisions to the Court of Appeals.

Coal miners are losing to the operators of unsafe mines as a bill progresses that would result in fewer state mine-safety inspections.

Workers in chain restaurants lost to corporations that are being relieved of responsibility for wage, hour, health, safety and other violations affecting their franchises’ employees.

Kentuckians will lose part of the public highways to longer, heavier trucks as a favor to the poultry, aluminum and trucking industries (though Kentucky’s short-line railroad industry is also losing).

School districts will be allowed to employ certain relatives of school-board members as lawmakers dismantle historic anti-nepotism rules piecemeal.

And women — especially low-income and rural women — will have less access to safe, legal abortions as a male-dominated legislature imposes even more constitutionally questionable barriers. At the same time, bipartisan legislation that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations, such as breaks or unpaid time off, to pregnant or breastfeeding workers got nowhere.

The legislature’s new Republican majority is making Kentucky a guinea pig to test the theory that lowering wages and taking away Kentuckians’ rights will produce a better, more prosperous state.

In doing so, the new Republican majority is also carrying out the agenda of an organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers (who have plenty of power, influence and money) that opened shop in Kentucky in 2014. Americans for Prosperity does not report how it spends its money or where its money comes from. It does not give directly to candidates, but there’s no doubt its independent spending was a factor in last fall’s elections when Republicans won the House for the first time in almost a century and also in Gov. Matt Bevin’s victory in 2015.

Kentucky’s legislature and governors have long been captive to monied interests, most notably road builders and other state contractors.

This session is the first in which lawmakers have owed so much to out-of-state interests.

This session’s redistribution of power eventually will manifest itself in lawmakers’ hometowns and across their districts. They can pat themselves on the backs if, indeed, their constituents become more prosperous, healthy and safe as a result of their actions. If that’s not how it works out, however, voters will have to make a strong statement to be heard above the siren song of dark money.

CONTINUE READING…

(3/10/17) Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens Week in Review

Senate President Pro Tempore David Givens
Week in Review

A flurry of activity stemming from committee meetings and the passage of bills marked a short but intense Week 6 of the Kentucky General Assembly. Although the Senate was only in session from Monday to Wednesday of this week, committee meetings still met during the later part of the week to give final hearings to a few select bills.

Quite a few pieces of legislation have already made it to Governor Bevin’s desk to await his signature. Senate Bill 17, relating to student rights to political and religious speech, was given final passage by the House this week. Senate Bill 101 would allow pharmacists to administer more immunizations to children, and Senate Bill 117, allowing veterans who meet certain criteria to obtain special teaching certificates, were also finally passed by the House.

The Senate also enrolled House bills to be sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature, including: House Bill 14, which makes committing an offense against a first responder a hate crime; House Bill 93, strengthening penalties for assaulting a law enforcement animal, also known as “Ernie’s Law”; and House Bill 189, increasing transparency within area development districts.

Senate Bill 50 would allow school districts that choose to start the school year no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 to follow a “variable student instructional year.” Schools which start the school year a little later in August than other schools, would not have to meet a 170-day requirement for the school year, as long as students still receive 1,062 hours of instruction each year, which is considered the equivalent of 170 school days. Senate Bill 50 was passed by the Senate 33-1 on February 9 and approved 77-18 by the House on March 8. It now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Senate legislation that would allow medical review panels to review medical malpractice lawsuits before they go to court was also sent to the Governor last week.  Senate Bill 4 would establish a process for medical review panels to review cases and issue opinions that could be used as evidence in court if a case proceeds. It does not prevent any citizen’s access to the courts. The bill was approved by the Senate 23-13 on January 5 and approved 51-45 by the House on March 1. It was delivered to the Governor on March 6.

The General Assembly is now quickly approaching the end of the 2017 Session. We adjourned on March 8, marking day 26 of 30 of the session, and we will reconvene again on March 14 and 15 before going into the veto period. During that period the Governor has the power to veto bills, but the General Assembly can override vetoes on the last two days of session, March 29 and 30.  If you have questions about the status of bills, please feel free to contact my office or review the Legislative Record online which can be found at www.lrc.ky.gov/record/17RS/record.htm.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

David Givens

Senate President Pro Tem