FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has pushed his opposition to Kentucky’s abortion ban to the forefront of his reelection campaign by linking his Republican challenger to an extreme scenario of the strict law — requiring young victims of rape or incest to carry their pregnancies to term.
Beshear’s campaign released a TV ad featuring a prosecutor denouncing the law’s lack of exceptions for rape or incest. It attacks GOP nominee Daniel Cameron for supporting the measure, which bans all abortions except when carried out to save a pregnant patient’s life or to prevent a disabling injury.
The ad represents a reversal of roles in this socially conservative state — where Republicans have traditionally gone on offense in statewide races touting their opposition to abortion. Now, Beshear has become the aggressor against his anti-abortion GOP challenger — signaling a willingness among Democrats to press the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a nationwide right to abortion last year. The ad is airing in conservative, rural regions as well as in more progressive, urban and suburban areas.
“When a woman or girl becomes pregnant from rape, the trauma is unimaginable,” Erin White, a prosecutor from Kentucky’s most populous county, says in the ad. “Daniel Cameron thinks a 9-year-old rape survivor should be forced to give birth. Nobody — no child — should ever have to go through that.”
Beshear’s campaign pointed to a Louisville Courier Journal article from 2022 indicating that the two youngest patients in the state to receive an abortion over those previous two years were both 9 years old. In 2021, 34 girls in Kentucky who were 15 years old or younger received abortions, the newspaper reported.
In his response, Cameron stood by his steadfast opposition to abortion. His campaign said in a statement that Beshear “stands with Joe Biden and the most extreme wing of the Democrat Party on abortion,” pointing to the governor’s opposition to bills restricting abortion.
“Daniel Cameron is the pro-life candidate in this race and will work as governor to build a culture of life,” Cameron’s campaign said in a statement.
That response shows that Cameron “believes in an extreme ban,” Beshear’s campaign said.
Cameron touted his anti-abortion credentials during the state’s crowded spring GOP primary, but since winning the nomination, Cameron and his allies generally have downplayed the abortion issue while focusing on other topics, including crime rates and transgender rights.
Four years ago, then-Gov. Matt Bevin played up his opposition to abortion while Beshear focused on education and other issues. Beshear won the governorship in a narrow victory. Since then, Kentucky’s “trigger law” abortion ban — passed in 2019 — took effect when Roe v. Wade was struck down.
In the first nationwide election since that ruling, voters protected abortion rights via ballot measures in several states, including Kentucky. Democratic candidates performed better than anticipated, keeping control of the U.S. Senate and winning races for governor and other statewide offices. Among the biggest winners were Democratic candidates who made preserving abortion rights a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Last year, supporters of abortion rights notched a rare victory in Kentucky when voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion. It came after years of Republican lawmakers eroding access to the procedure in the Bluegrass State.
Cameron has staked much of his political identity to his staunch opposition to abortion. As attorney general, his office has defended the state’s anti-abortion laws, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Kentucky, Cameron’s office has gone to court to defend the trigger law ban and another anti-abortion state law that outlaws abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy.
During a GOP primary debate in March, Cameron expressed support for the near-total abortion ban. While acknowledging what he called the “delicacy of this issue,” Cameron said it’s “important that we look out for the most vulnerable in our population — those that are in the womb.”
Beshear has consistently called the abortion ban an “extremist” law that he says the “vast majority” of Kentuckians disagree with, pointing to the lack of exceptions for rape and incest. In the past, he said it provides rape survivors with “no options despite the fact that they have been harmed and what they’re going through is … absolutely zero fault of their own.”
Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said the rape and incest exceptions have become the “talking points” of abortion-rights groups and politicians.
“Is a child conceived as a result of rape or incest any less human, or does the child have any less dignity than a child conceived in the loving embrace of their parents?” Wuchner said.
Abortion rights advocate Tamarra Wieder, the Kentucky state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said Cameron is “out of touch” with voters who rejected the anti-abortion ballot measure.
“Right now, if a Kentuckian finds themselves in the most tragic circumstances of being victim to an unwanted pregnancy, they are forced to leave the state, and their support systems, to get basic care,” Wieder said in a statement. “Cameron wants to keep it that way.”
Kentucky is one of three states with gubernatorial elections this year.
In Louisiana, which has one of the strictest near-total abortion bans, there has not been any significant debate about dismantling the law but instead, whether exceptions should be added. The state has a Democratic governor right now who is unable to seek reelection because of consecutive term limits.
In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is boasting about the state bringing the case that was ultimately used to overturn Roe v. Wade. Democratic challenger Brandon Presley also describes himself as an opponent of abortion rights.
Associated Press Writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., and Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.
Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press