Kentucky abortion rights advocates hope that their lives will be easier with a Democratic governor in office, but they will still have to contend with a strongly anti-abortion legislature.
Tamarri Wieder is the public affairs and policy director for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. She says that Gov. Andy Beshear’s defeat of Gov. Matt Bevin last year shows that voters didn’t rally around anti-abortion causes.
“He tried to really use Andy Beshear’s pro-choice stances against him and it failed,” Wieder said.
“While the makeup of the General Assembly hasn’t changed, I think the voices and the votes in Kentucky are standing up and realizing the hypocrisy of these bills and how damaging they are to the commonwealth.”
Beshear narrowly won the governorship over Bevin by a little more than 5,000 votes.
Bevin touted his anti-abortion credentials throughout his governorship and the campaign, signing several anti-abortion measures into law and taking up legal battles that attempted to close the state’s only abortion provider and preventing a second provider from opening.
Beshear characterized himself as a supporter of Roe v. Wade — the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars states from limiting abortion before the point of fetal viability — and called Bevin an “extremist” on the issue.
Wieder predicted that the new administration would treat the issue differently, but that fighting for abortion rights in the legislature would be an uphill battle.
“I believe it will be extremely different from the last four years here, however that doesn’t change the makeup of the General Assembly,” Wieder said.
There are at least two anti-abortion bills that have been filed so far during the legislative session — a constitutional ban on the procedure and a so-called “gag rule” that would bar organizations that receive public funds from performing, referring or counseling about abortion.
Planned Parenthood has been locked in a licensure battle after briefly providing abortions in Louisville in late 2015.
Wieder said she expected the Beshear administration would drop the issue soon.
“I think that we’re just waiting for him to get things rolling with the session and we’ll be in conversation around that and the expectation for those lawsuits,” Wieder said.
At the end of his term, Bevin was still locked in several legal battles related to abortion, including the defense of strict anti-abortion laws he signed into law in recent years.
Those laws include a “heartbeat” bill that bans abortions after the 6th week in pregnancy, a ban on a common abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation and a ban on the procedure based on gender or a disability.
Beshear will have to decide whether to continue defending the laws.