Written by Jackie McGranahan, Policy Strategist, ACLU of Kentucky and Tamarra Wieder, State Director, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kentucky

Once again, we find ourselves at the beginning of a legislative session with house and senate majorities prioritizing anti-abortion legislation instead of the immediate needs of the people. Despite numerous existing problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and thousands of Kentuckians dying from coronavirus, lawmakers have prioritized and advanced several anti-abortion bills to restrict and shame patients and their healthcare providers. Even worse, they advanced these bills without public input. This is not what Kentuckians want. No state in this country supports banning abortion. Even in states with the greatest support for anti-abortion policies, not 1 in 3 people support these bans.

More than 360,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19, including 3,161 Kentuckians. The pandemic has laid bare centuries of economic inequality, structural racism, and public health failures. Addressing the public health crises facing the country – and our commonwealth – must be a top priority.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly has continued their unprecedented assault on science, public health, and the constitutional right to access abortion care. While your voices last year helped us stop any anti-abortion bills from becoming law for the first time since 2017, legislators have made these bills their top priority in 2021.

Let us be clear: these bills have nothing to do with improving health outcomes. This legislation is an attempt to control other people’s bodies. It puts their lives in danger; shames and ostracises patients and healthcare providers; and eventually could push abortion care entirely out of reach, bit by bit.

These restrictions target abortion providers with unnecessary, arbitrary, and burdensome red tape that would ultimately force them to close their doors. Others would make abortion care illegal – even in cases of rape, incest, or severe fetal anomalies – criminalizing phycisians for the care they provide.

When abortion is pushed out of reach, those struggling financially or already facing significant barriers to healthcare are harmed the most. Abortion care is already inaccessible for many pregnant people with low-incomes, young people, LBGTQ people, and people of color. Each pregnancy and person’s circumstances are different — some with a healthy desired pregnancy, some with a pregnancy that is unplanned, and some with severe health conditions that even modern medicine and the best medical teams cannot fix.

The super majority has made it perfectly clear that people struggling from the pandemic do not matter, health doesn’t matter, small businesses do not matter, education does not matter, Black Lives do not matter, and bodily autonomy does not matter.

Kentucky is currently rated as hostile when it comes to access to abortion care, and these lawmakers are attempting to make matters worse. At the same time, our commonwealth dropped from the 42nd to 45th healthiest state, according to America’s Health Rankings. The importance of Kentucky’s overall health and well-being has a significant effect on the health of a person before, during, and after pregnancy. Our poor collective health and inadequate access to healthcare means pregnant people in the U.S. die at three times the rate of those in the European Union.

These trends are even worse for people of color, especially Black people. Pregnant Black people are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than non-Hispanic white people in the US. Among people who survive pregnancy and childbirth each year, 50,000 experience life-threatening complications. These complications affect Black people twice as often as their white peers. 

But there is hope and these deaths are preventable. Lawmakers must stop showboating and do the real work to support our communities. 

Kentucky has a real opportunity here. Our elected officials could pass legislation that would truly help their constituents – the people for whom they work – and save lives. We must hold our legislature accountable and send a clear message: our care can’t wait and we will not go back.