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Kentucky Abortion Laws

Few topics are as divisive as abortion. Many in the pro-life camp actively seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. Conversely, many pro-choice proponents fight for a continuation of over 40 years of women’s freedom to choose what happens to their bodies. No matter what you believe, it’s important to understand the laws in your state and your rights if you or a friend have an unplanned pregnancy, especially if you’re a teen.

The table below explains the main provisions of Kentucky’s abortion laws.

Code Sections Kentucky Revised Statutes Sections 311.710 to 830 – Abortions
Statutory Definition of Illegal Abortion Kentucky prohibits a number of types of abortions, including some that were found unconstitutional and are therefore unenforceable laws:
  • Abortion after the unborn child is viable is unlawful except to preserve the life or health of woman, but the doctor shall take all reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of the child during the process.
  • Partial birth abortions (where a vaginal delivery of a living fetus is started before killing the fetus and completing delivery) are illegal, except to save the woman’s life or health. However, this law was found unconstitutional and unenforceable because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, Stenberg v. Carhart. Then Congress passed a similar second trimester partial-birth abortion ban in 2003 (federal laws apply to all states), that the Supreme Court upheld as legal in 2007.
  • Saline method abortions are prohibited after the first trimester.
Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion Abortion is legal in Kentucky when a medical doctor determines that abortion is necessary in his or her clinical judgment and with the second opinion of a doctor, and the pregnant woman provides informed consent. Abortion is permissible during the first trimester. After viability of the fetus, it’s legal only if necessary to preserve life or health of the woman.
Penalty for Unlawful Abortion Violation of the Kentucky abortion laws can result in serious criminal penalties, including:
  • A non-licensed physician performing an abortion is a Class B felony that is punished by 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.
  • Performing an abortion on a viable fetus except to preserve life and health of mother is a Class C felony. A Class C felony has a penalty of 5 to 10 years imprisonment and a $1,000 to $10,000 find.
  • If the doctor didn’t believe the abortion was necessary, didn’t receive a written referral, violated any regulations on abortions after viability, or used the saline method of abortion after the first trimester is Class D felony. A Class D felony can be punished by 1 to 5 years incarceration and a $1,000 to $10,000 fine.
  • Violating the woman's consent provisions or aborting with reckless disregard of whether the woman is a minor is Class A misdemeanor.
Consent Requirements Girls under 18 who aren’t married or otherwise emancipated must get the written informed consent with a 24-hour waiting period of one parent or guardian, except when a medical emergency requires an abortion. A girl can also go to court to ask the judge to waive the parental consent requirement.

Kentucky law also says that the doctor must notify the spouse if possible prior to abortion, if not possible, within 30 days of abortion. However, the requirement to notify your spouse or husband was found unconstitutional by the Kentucky Attorney General in 1982 as well as in the case Eubanks v Brown in 1984. Later, in 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court also found spousal consent unconstitutional. Thus, this law is unenforceable.
Residency Requirements for Patients None.
Physician Licensing Requirements During the first trimester a woman, with the advice of a licensed medical doctor, can get an abortion in a clinic or take a medication, like an abortion pill. After the first trimester, the abortion must be done at the advice of a licensed medical doctor and must be in licensed hospital, except in cases of medical emergencies.

If you have questions about your reproductive rights, including the right to get an abortion, in Kentucky, you should contact an experienced Kentucky health care attorney.

Note: Because state laws change constantly, it’s important to verify the laws you’re researching by conducting your own legal research or contacting a knowledgeable attorney.

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