By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Kentucky's new Republican House majority took the first step on Thursday toward requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, acting swiftly to capitalize on winning control of the chamber for the first time in almost a century.
The 83-12 vote on the bill came on the third day of the state's 2017 General Assembly session, the first in which the Republican Party has led the House of Representatives since 1921.
The bill requires a physician or qualified technician to perform the ultrasound and position the screen so the woman may view the images. The medical staff will be required to describe what the images show, including the size of the fetus and any organs or appendages visible.
Sponsors say the bill will better protect the health of women and provide the materials necessary for women to make an informed choice. Abortion rights advocates contend such laws are designed to frighten and shame those seeking an abortion.
Some 25 states have laws regarding ultrasounds and abortions, but only three states require medical staff to display and describe the images, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit group focusing on health issues.
While Kentucky's bill passed easily, some supporters criticized the new House leadership for pushing the legislation through so quickly that it might open the state to a lawsuit if,
as expected, the bill becomes law.
"I think that had we had a chance to discuss this bill, we might have come up with something that was not going to open this state up to millions of dollars in litigation" costs, said Democratic state Representative Angie Hatton.
The state's Republican-controlled Senate passed another measure that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After passing the ultrasound bill, the House approved two measures strongly opposed by labor groups. The first was a proposal that would allow workers in union shops to receive union benefits without having to pay dues, The second measure would repeal prevailing wage laws Republicans say add expenses to state and local construction projects.
Leaders in both chambers plan to meet this weekend to pass bills to be sent to Republican Governor Matt Bevin for approval, House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo said.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)