Kentucky governor vetoes controversial abortion bill on legislative session’s last day

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed a controversial abortion bill lawmakers passed in the final days of this year’s legislative session. They will not have an opportunity to override it.

Beshear, during his 5 p.m. COVID-19 news conference Friday, said he vetoed Senate Bill 9 and did not want to deal with “divisive” issues at this time.

Before Kentucky legislators wrapped up this year’s lawmaking session on April 15, they approved the bill to give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron authority to stop abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

During debate on the legislation, Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield called Beshear “a hypocrite” for keeping the state’s two abortion facilities open during the pandemic while stopping other elective medical procedures.

He predicted Beshear would veto the bill and he was right.

“This governor once again demonstrated his hostility to unborn life,” Westerfield said Friday.

He added, “If the Lord is willing, I will file this bill on the first day of the 2021 session.”

In his veto message, Beshear said he vetoed the bill “because existing Kentucky law already protects children from being denied life-saving medical care and treatment when they are born.

“In addition, bills similar to Senate Bill 9 have been struck down as unconstitutional in the majority of states in America when challenged. During this worldwide health pandemic, it is simply not the time for a divisive set of lawsuits that reduce our unity and our focus on defeating the novel coronavirus and restarting our economy.”

An amended version of Senate Bill 9 sent to the governor declared abortion to be an elective medical procedure, which Beshear has banned during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to help preserve personal protective equipment and slow the spread of the disease. Defining which medical procedures are elective has largely been left to the medical community to decide on a case-by-case basis.

The legislation expanded Cameron’s power to take civil or criminal action against any abortion facility and gave him the authority to seek injunctive relief for violations of emergency orders issued by the governor banning elective medical procedures, “including but not limited to abortions.”

The bill also made it a Class D felony for a provider not to try the save the life of an infant when it is “born alive” after a botched abortion.

Cameron, a Republican elected the state’s top law-enforcement official, had urged Beshear not to veto the bill.

He had called on the Beshear administration earlier to end abortion procedures in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cameron in a statement Friday night called the veto “reprehensible.”

“The governor, who claims to have everyday family values, vetoed a bill that would require babies born after failed abortions to receive live-saving medical care,” said Cameron. “His veto is an affront to the people of Kentucky, whose elected representatives voted in a bipartisan manner for the bill.”

Cameron also said it is “disheartening that he would issue a veto against a bill that gives my office the authority to hold abortion clinics accountable to the law.

“The people of Kentucky elected me to enforce the laws of the commonwealth, and I had hoped that Gov. Beshear would welcome having me as a partner with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in enforcing our health and safety laws, rather than rebuking the people’s wishes.”

Beshear, a Democrat who supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, has said he will leave the question of keeping abortion clinics open to health professionals.

Republican House Speaker David Osborne said in a statement Friday night, “We are outraged and saddened that Gov. Beshear chose to veto a bill aimed at protecting human life.

“Make no mistake, the governor had a choice and he used it to defend the indefensible.”

Osborne added, “This is not the end of the issue. The House Majority Caucus has been called the most pro-life in the history of our commonwealth, and we will continue to fight for human life.”

Some Democratic lawmakers opposed to the bill said the Republican-led legislature could have passed the bill last month and would have had the opportunity to override a gubernatorial veto.

Jackie McGranahan, ACLU-Kentucky’s reproductive freedom project field organizer, said, “The bill, if enacted, would have unconstitutionally restricted the reproductive rights of Kentuckians by denying them the ability to make important personal decisions for themselves.”

Granahan said the bill was “politically motivated” and its impact “would have been particularly cruel during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic by denying access to time-sensitive, essential abortion care.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said, “Anti-choice Republicans in Kentucky cravenly pounced on the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their agenda of ending abortion access.

“Gov. Beshear has been an advocate for women and families for many years and reaffirmed his commitment today by vetoing SB 9.”


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