We Kentucky Women Deserve Better

The Kentucky State Legislature’s attitude toward women is dismissive, disrespectful and condescending.

It has been this way for many years, but has escalated significantly since the GOP took control of the Kentucky House and Senate and an extremist Republican became Governor. Together, these Kentucky lawmakers perpetuate a sexist, white male agenda.

My husband helped found the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville (EMW), which is currently the only provider of abortion services in Kentucky. They have recently experienced some sad and difficult situations. Four new restrictions were passed this most recent legislative session. One bill, under the guise of “freedom from discrimination”, prohibited physicians and other medical professionals from performing an abortion if they have knowledge that a woman is seeking an abortion due to race, sex or disability, such as a potential diagnosis of Downs Syndrome.

There is a lot of misinformation about abortion that happens later in pregnancy, with some using the language of “infanticide.” Abortions later in pregnancy are almost always people that are facing very difficult decisions related to the health of the prenate or the mother. Two of the situations that happened in real time a week apart during this last legislative session at EMW involved fetal anomalies.

One patient had undergone fertility treatments and managed to get pregnant. Their 20- week ultrasound didn’t go well. The prenate had a type of anencephaly, where the brain did not develop. There were also many other issues related to this pregnancy and the medical advice was that the prenate would likely die in the womb, and if delivered would only survive hours or days and never leave the hospital. The couple made a decision to terminate the pregnancy. The other couple had a lethal fetal anomaly and also decided to terminate the pregnancy.

Many of the abortion bills were slated for final passage while these patients were at EMW. Three of the bills would have prevented these patients the care they needed to terminate the pregnancy. In addition to the race, sex and disability ban, S.B.9, the fetal heartbeat bill, definitely would have prevented the terminations. It does not have any measures about protection of the mother or fetal anomalies. These families were very fearful that the bills would pass and the Governor would sign them while they were in process of accessing care at EMW.

Access to care was in the hands of the Kentucky House and the Governor, not the people whose lives would be impacted.

One family was lucky and for the other family at EMW had to interrupt the care that was in progress and make arrangements for them to travel to another state. It was incredibly difficult for the EMW staff and the family.

Should these personal, private decisions be in the hands of our legislators and Governor? When you hear about these bans going into place preventing second and third trimester abortions, the people they will affect are like the people in these stories.

These laws are particularly hypocritical when they come from the same legislators that slash support and benefits for women and people with disabilities. They refuse to put resources into programs that could actually help women and children, such as prenatal care, prekindergarten, affordable wages, affordable childcare and paid family leave.

Many women that I speak with in Kentucky express fear, anger and surprise. Sadly, many women are just not informed and don’t have any understanding of what is taking place in our legislature. Most of the patients at EMW do not bring up the issue. If they do,  our counselor focuses on being grateful that they still retain the right to make decisions about their reproductive health and family planning. They just seem to be relieved that they have the choice at that moment. If the issue has been discussed, they are encouraged to vote and to motivate other people they know to vote. One of the families that was affected by the race, sex, and disability ban feels it is very important to share their story and has spoken at several events.

We need more women to speak up and a strategy to increase public awareness.

Fortunately for women (and men), Kentucky has all the new and previous legislation blocked as it continues to work its way through the legal system. History has shown us that women will not stop having abortions and must be trusted to make their own personal decisions.

The Kentucky state legislature and Governor consider women to be invisible. We deserve better.


Ona Marshall grew up in Michigan and has served in health care administration positions in several states. She moved to Louisville, KY to become Director of Diagnostic Services for Humana, where she met her husband Dr. Ernest Marshall, who is the only surviving founder of EMW Women's Surgical Center.

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