By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Kentucky's newly sworn-in Republican House majority on Thursday took the first step toward requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound first, acting swiftly to capitalize on winning a majority 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 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. At the same time, 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, while abortion rights advocates contend such laws are designed to scare 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 Rep. Angie Hatton, from Whitesburg in southeastern Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the state's Republican-controlled Senate passed another measure that would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The House on Thursday was also considering a right-to-work bill as well as a measure that would repeal prevailing wage laws across the state.
In past sessions, lawmakers have used the first week of January predominately for organizational purposes before returning in February for the start of legislative sessions.
However, with Republicans in complete control in the capital of Frankfort, party leaders decided to move quickly on issues they deemed priorities.
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 Daniel Trotta and Alan Crosby)