Kentucky Abortion Laws

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Note: While Kentucky passed new laws in 2019 significantly restricting most abortions (intended to be enacted immediately upon passage), they were suspended indefinitely by a federal judge and are subject to further judicial review in state or federal courts. The courts can ultimately overturn the laws if they're found to be unconstitutional.

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, arguing that an unborn fetus is a human being deserving of legal protection. Conversely, many pro-choice proponents seek to preserve abortion rights, arguing that laws should not restrict a woman’s freedom to choose what happens to her body. 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.

Kentucky's 2019 Abortion Laws

In 2019, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed two bills affecting abortion access. House Bill 5 bans abortion based on the gender, race, or disability of a fetus. Senate Bill 9 bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically the sixth week of pregnancy. While these laws were passed with emergency declarations and thus meant to take effect immediately after the governor's signing, a federal judge suspended the laws in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The laws are a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and their fate will likely will rest on future decisions by federal appeals courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court (Kentucky has also passed a law that would ban abortion outright in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned).

Kentucky Abortion Laws: The Basics

You shouldn't need a law degree to read and understand the laws that affect you, although many of these statutes are written in dense "legalese." The table below explains, in plain language, the main provisions of Kentucky’s abortion laws, including changes pending under the changes to the law made in 2019.

Statutes & Bills
Statutory Definition of Illegal Abortion Kentucky prohibits a number of types of abortions as indicated below, but some of these laws were found unconstitutional and are therefore unenforceable:
  • 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.

Under House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 9:

The new laws would prohibit abortions based on the gender, race, or disability of the fetus as well as abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected (approximately 6 weeks, often before the mother knows she's pregnant), unless it's deemed necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion

Abortion is legal in Kentucky when a medical doctor determines that it is necessary in their 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.

Under Senate Bill 9

The only legal abortions in the state would be those performed prior to detection of a fetal heartbeat, typically before the sixth week of pregnancy, or as necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

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 the 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 fine.
  • 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, then they can be charged with a 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.

Under House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 9:

Women who procure abortions in violation of the 2019 laws (still subject to judicial review) will not face criminal or civil penalties. However, any health care provider who performs an abortion knowingly in violation of the law may have their medical license revoked and can be charged with a Class D felony.

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 minor 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 and, 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

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 .

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.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Kentucky Abortion Laws: Related Resources

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Questions About Kentucky Abortion Laws

Abortion laws are changing rapidly at the state level, with possible changes nationwide. Facing an unwanted pregnancy is stressful enough without worrying about the current state of abortion laws. 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 near you today.

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