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Kentucky Abortion Laws


Abortion is illegal in Kentucky.


Few topics are as divisive as abortion. Many in the pro-life camp argue that an unborn fetus is a human being deserving of legal protection. Conversely, many pro-choice proponents seek to obtain an abortion right, 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.

Although the Supreme Court recognized a federal constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade, it overruled that decision on June 24, 2022 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. States are now therefore free to regulate or prohibit abortion.

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 fifth or 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).

Kentucky has also enacted a "trigger ban," which prohibits virtually all abortions, to be effective upon the Supreme Court's overruling of Roe v. Wade

A state court judge has enjoined (prohibited) enforcement of the fetal heartbeat law and the trigger ban, but this area of law is highly fluid. The chart below reflects the state of Kentucky law as of July 8, 2022.

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 the mother, 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 the 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.

Research the Law

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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