Democrats hope to force vote on abortion exceptions as session winds down

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

FRANKFORT — Democrats are hoping to force lawmakers to take a stand on loosening Kentucky’s near total ban on abortion before going home Monday.

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, announced Thursday that he is filing a discharge petition for his Senate Bill 99, which would create exceptions in the abortion ban for rape and incest. He filed the bill on Jan. 9 and said it was “deliberately shelved.” 

At a Thursday news conference, Yates spoke alongside Hadley Duvall, who talked about her childhood pregnancy in ads supporting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear before his reelection last November. 

Duvall said the Republican-controlled legislature’s refusal to consider adding exceptions to the law leaves her “heartbroken” for her fellow abuse survivors. She promised to “fight for them always.” Yates named his measure Hadley’s Law in her honor. 

Beshear also weighed in Thursday, saying he is “100% in support” of Yates’ discharge petition. Kentucky has “one of the most restrictive laws in the country,” Beshear said. “It’s mean and it’s cruel.” 

Andy Beshear (Kentucky Lantern photo by Arden Barnes)

“If the legislature passes on that, that’s another year,” he said. “The people who are violated and harmed don’t have options.” 

Under Senate rules, any member can call for a vote on whether a bill has been “held an unreasonable time” the day after filing a discharge petition. If a majority of senators concur, the bill is treated as if it had been approved by a committee and receives a first reading. Bills must receive readings on three different days. That means that without a suspension of the rules there would not be time for a vote on SB 99, even in the unlikely event the Republican-controlled Senate approved the discharge petition.

Yates told reporters he wants the public to know where their representatives stand on this issue, though he acknowledged it’s a “hard vote” for many. 

“I’m not trying to embarrass people,” he said. “We’re elected here to make the hard votes.” 

Senate President Robert Stivers (LRC Public Information)

In January, Senate President Robert Stivers promised on KET that Yates’ bill would be assigned to a committee but it never was.  On Thursday, Stivers told reporters that he “never had any real discussion with anybody that wanted to move” Yates’ bill. 

Stivers also said the bill could not be constitutionally passed because it would lack the required three readings.

“I think Sen. Yates is probably making more of a political statement than he is a policy maneuver because it just doesn’t survive the process,” Stivers said. 

‘A scared middled schooler’ 

Abortion has emerged as a favorable issue for Democrats since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which said there was a constitutional right to abortion, in 2022. Later that year, Kentucky voters defeated an anti-abortion constitutional amendment. Voters in Kansas and Ohio have defeated similar measures. The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a 1864 abortion ban, ensuring that abortion will be an issue in one of the races expected to decide control of the U.S. Senate this year. Kentuckians will be voting in legislative races in November in addition to  contests for Congress and U.S. president.

At the Thursday news conference, Duvall said, “If this bill had been given a hearing, I would have been here to testify. I would have said how I was sexually abused by my stepfather for years and became pregnant at the age of 12. And I would have described the feeling of being a scared middle schooler taking a pregnancy test by myself, in my bathroom, right after school, terrified about what it could mean for my future. There are little girls across Kentucky right now in similar situations and they need options.” 

Yates agreed, saying “When someone has violently taken away their choices, it is wrong for us to continue to do that as the state.” 

Yates also said the three-month delay on his bill is “about as unreasonable as you get.” 

Woman in Beshear’s abortion ad says she wants to give voice to victims

None of the bills seeking to loosen Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban were assigned committees, making them effectively dead on arrival. Those bills include: 

The day after he won reelection, Beshear called on the Republican-controlled General Assembly to add exceptions to the Kentucky law in cases of rape and incest. Advocates hoped that Duvall’s story and Beshear’s reelection were a turning point in the attitudes toward Kentucky’s lack of abortion access. 

Beshear added Thursday that he believes in greater access to abortion than just the exceptions. He’s publicly said Roe V. Wade was “generally right.” He said the exceptions in Yates’ bill were the “very least that people of empathy should be able to do.” 

Duvall said she’s “disappointed” in legislative leaders who failed to advance the bill named after her. She hopes they use this chance to change course. 

“How could you choose to not hear out the bill, but you won’t give us our choice?” she asked. “I say a lot that I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro mind-your-own-business. This is a mind-your-own-business piece of legislation.” 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter. Kentucky Lantern stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Donate to Kentucky Lantern here.