- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Republicans kept up their fast-break pace on Friday, advancing many of their long-stalled priorities as legislative committees approved bills targeting labor unions and imposing strict conditions on abortion.

On Day 4 of the 2017 session, Republicans holding commanding majorities over both chambers worked in tandem to move those bills through committees over continued objections from Democrats, who can no longer block them after losing control of the House in November.

“We did not come up here to sit around for a week and do nothing,” House Speaker Jeff Hoover said. “We got a mandate in November to take this state in a different direction and do things differently, and that’s exactly what we have done this week.”

In a rare weekend session, Republicans were set to give final passage to the measures when they convene Saturday for an action-packed finale before lawmakers start a monthlong recess.

GOP-run committees advanced bills Friday to ban abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require ultrasounds prior to the procedures.

On the labor front, Republicans won committee approval for a measure aimed at making it illegal to require workers to pay union dues to keep a job.

Another bill would repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law, which required workers earn a higher wage on construction projects financed with public money.

Union workers who filled the state Capitol on Thursday to protest those bills were expected to return Saturday to voice their displeasure.

Committee reviews of the abortion bills included emotional testimony and tense exchanges.

Opponents of the ultrasound bill said it amounted to government intrusion in the doctor-patient relationship and called it an attempt to “shame” women into deciding against abortion.

“I don’t understand why this legislative session has turned into an all-out war on women,” said Democratic Sen. Denise Harper Angel.

The bill’s supporters countered that details provided during the ultrasound would enable women to make fully informed decisions.

“I think this is a victory for women,” said Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr.

The ultrasound bill would require doctors to display the images so the pregnant woman may view them. The woman could avert her eyes from the images. The doctor would be required to provide a medical description of the images. The fetal heartbeat could be heard, but the woman could choose to have the volume of the sound turned down so she wouldn’t have to hear it.

Meanwhile, the bill calling for a ban on abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy is based on the assertion from supporters that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.

Republican Rep. Kimberly Moser, citing her experience as a neonatal intensive care nurse, said she had taken care of babies born at 20 weeks.

“I’ve had to draw blood on babies at 20 weeks, and they do respond to pain,” she said. “I’ve held these babies. They respond to being soothed and being calmed.”

Opponents said the bill’s intent was to chip away at abortion rights.

“The real issue here is not fetal pain, on which there is no credible scientific support, but the desire to stand in the way of decisions about abortion between a woman, her family and her doctor,” said Kate Miller with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

The measure would make exceptions to the 20-week ban when the mother’s life is in danger, but does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

Opponents said the bill’s drafters signaled their own concerns about the bill’s constitutionality by including a provision allowing contributions to a trust fund that would pay for any possible legal defense of the measure.

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