Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection campaign is slamming Republican Daniel Cameron’s stance on abortion, eliciting an accusation from the GOP nominee that the Democratic incumbent is “running the most despicable campaign in Kentucky history.”
The Beshear’s campaign’s TV spot features a rape victim identified in the ad as Hadley Duvall of Owensoboro who was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather.
Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General, Cameron, expressed sympathy for the woman who discussed the trauma of being raped by her stepfather but said he still supports his state’s abortion ban that requires similar victims of rape and incest to carry their pregnancies to term.
Duvall was an innocent 12-year-old when she learned she was pregnant. Her stepfather, Jeremy Whitledge, would later plead guilty to raping her and is now serving prison time.
“I was in seventh-grade, I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I asked him why he was doing what he was doing, and he manipulated me and told me that this is normal and that this is love and that’s what love is. So, that’s what I believed.”
Cameron said his “heart goes out” to the “young lady,” as the ad went viral following its release, putting the debate about abortion exceptions at the forefront of the Kentucky governor’s race in another sign that Republicans are scrambling to find their footing on the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
Now, 20 years old, Duvall is telling her story of her childhood sexual abuse, which started when she was five and continued for years.
“I missed my period one month and I was like, ‘oh my gosh I don’t even know what to do.’ So I told him,” she said. “I told my stepdad and he was like, ‘well I’m going to have to come check you out of school one day. Just pretend like you’re sick and I’ll check you out and we’ll go get a test.’ So that’s what we did. They were positive and I had no idea what to do.”
She eventually miscarried but the trauma makes her acutely aware of how unjust the laws have become.
“That was painful, I was alone, and I couldn’t tell anybody,” she said. “I couldn’t go get any medical attention.”
The two state laws – a ban on nearly all abortions in Kentucky and a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy – were allowed to take effect last year following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
Both laws were passed in 2019, as part of a years-long effort by Republican lawmakers in many states to restrict the procedure as much as possible in the event that the constitutional right to privacy was taken away from women with regard to ending an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy.
Kentucky’s last two remaining women’s health clinics, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, were forced to stop providing abortions as the American Civil Liberties Union challenged both laws, prompting a chain of litigation that culminated with arguments before the Kentucky Supreme Court in November.
The oral arguments took place just days after voters rejected Amendment 2, which would have amended the state constitution to state explicitly that there is no right to an abortion.
The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s near-total bans on abortion will remain in place while a lawsuit over the matter continues. The bans include a six-week ban and a trigger law, which have been in place since August of last year.
The decision has been closely watched as it comes just months after voters weighed in on the issue of abortion rights and signaled support for abortion rights at the ballot box.
“Lives will be saved while these laws remain in effect, and we hope and pray the lower courts will respect Kentuckians’ will and base their decisions in this case on the Constitution and rule of law,” Sue Liebel, midwest regional director of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion-rights group, said after Thursday’s decision.
Abortion rights groups decried the ruling.
“This unconscionable decision is a slap in the face to Kentucky voters, who only three months ago rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed a permanent ban on abortion in their state,” said NARAL President Mini Timmaraju.
The case has national implications, as the freedom to choose an abortion represents the only fundamental constitutional right that was taken away from American citizens after it was defined by the Supreme Court.
“While the Supreme Court abandoned nearly 50 years of precedent, our political establishment failed to embed the right to privacy and its implication for women in the law because it made a great fundraising appeal for as long as our freedom was potentially in jeopardy,” said civil rights advocate Lisa McCormick. “This is why we must make sweeping changes in the makeup of our government as well as the structure of that broken system, but the people have power if they decide to wield it.”
“The Court’s opinion delivers a wrecking ball to the constitutional right to abortion, destroying the protections of Roe v. Wade, and utterly disregarding the one in four women in America who make the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement. “While public support for access to abortion is at an all-time high, the Court has hit a new low by taking away – for the first time ever – a constitutionally guaranteed personal liberty.”
The decision came in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners on behalf of Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only remaining abortion clinic in the state. Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court ruling that granted a permanent injunction against the ban.
With its ruling, the conservative majority abandoned the constitutional right to privacy, paving the way for half the states across the country to ban abortion.
“Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” said the dissent signed by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. “And no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work. The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone.”
Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan also said: “Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”