FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kentucky moved this week to give the state’s anti-abortion attorney general authority to regulate abortion clinics, but they may have acted too late if the state’s new Democratic governor objects.
The legislature passed the bill late Wednesday, on the last day of the 2020 legislative session. But if Gov. Andy Beshear decides to veto the bill and keep regulatory authority in his own administration’s hands, anti-abortion lawmakers won’t have the opportunity to override him.
That didn’t stop Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron from embracing the measure Thursday.
“As the chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth, our office must be able to act unencumbered and with clear legal authority when an abortion provider breaks the law,” he said.
With the decision now up to him, the governor didn’t tip his hand about the bill’s eventual fate.
“I haven’t read it,” Beshear told reporters Thursday. “I don’t have any decision on it yet. I’ve been working solely on the coronavirus. I will look at it at some point within the period of time that I have for vetoes.”
The dynamics surrounding abortion have shifted dramatically from just a few months ago. Abortion was a central point of contention between Beshear, who was himself the attorney general when he won the governor’s race in November, and former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, the man he defeated. The bill’s passage sets the table for keeping it front and center in this year’s election, when many GOP lawmakers face reelection themselves.
Republicans successfully overrode vetoes from the governor repeatedly this week on other matters, including the state budget, revenue and legislation requiring photo identification for voting.
The legislation would allow the attorney general to take civil or criminal action against abortion facilities. Under current law, the attorney general needs authorization from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services before taking such action. The measure would give the attorney general independent authority on those matters.
Cameron made a case for the bill in a statement in which he expressed hope that Beshear will sign it into law.
Cameron said the continuation of abortions when elective medical procedures are halted amid the coronavirus pandemic shows the new enforcement powers are “”necessary and timely.” He has said abortions in the state should cease as part of Beshear’s order halting elective procedures. That order is meant to limit contact among people and preserve medical supplies such as masks and gloves.
The bill sent to Beshear declares abortion to be an elective medical procedure.
Two abortion-rights groups, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, are urging the governor to veto the legislation. They denounced it as a “blatant power grab” meant to make it harder for women to obtain abortions.
Beshear supports abortion rights but backs “reasonable restrictions,” especially on late-term procedures. Bevin tried to make abortion a central issue in this conservative state in last year’s election, while Beshear ran a disciplined campaign that kept the focus on educational improvements he was pushing. Bevin’s confrontational style, highlighted by his feud with schoolteachers, helped lead to his narrow defeat.
Now Republican lawmakers have reasserted the abortion issue when Beshear is commanding unprecedented attention in leading the state’s efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The governor presides over daily virus briefings shown on statewide television.
Another part of the abortion measure sent to Beshear would require doctors to provide life-sustaining care for an infant born alive after a failed abortion attempt. Critics have noted that the law already requires them to attempt life-saving measures.
Kentucky lawmakers have moved aggressively to put restrictions and conditions on abortion since Republicans assumed total control of the legislature in the 2017 session. Some of those laws are being challenged in courts, including one that would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected, usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.
Abortion procedures in Kentucky are done at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. Planned Parenthood has said it recently began offering abortion services in Louisville under a provisional license.