Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday vetoed a priority Republican measure that would ban abortions in Kentucky after 15 weeks of pregnancy and regulate the sale of abortion pills.
The governor expressed doubts about the constitutionality of the bill and criticized that it did not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
State legislators have the opportunity to override the veto when they meet next week for the final two days of this year’s 60-day legislative session. The abortion measure won overwhelming support in the GOP-dominated legislature. A spokesman for the Republican Party called the veto the latest example of the governor’s “ideological war” against conservative values.
The proposal reflects the Kentucky Legislature’s recent attempt to place more restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP took full control of the Legislature after the 2016 election.
The proposed 15-week ban is modeled after a Mississippi law under review by the US Supreme Court in a case that could dramatically limit abortion rights. By taking the preemptive measure, supporters of the bill say that if the Mississippi law were upheld, Kentucky’s stricter ban would apply.
Kentucky law currently prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Beshear on Friday condemned the bill because it does not exclude pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
“Rape and incest are violent crimes,” the governor said in his veto message. “Victims of these crimes should have options and not be further harmed by a process that exposes them to more harm from their rapists or that treats them as perpetrators themselves.”
The governor said the bill would make it harder for girls under 18 to terminate a pregnancy without notifying both parents. As an example, he said that if a girl was made pregnant by her father, she would have to tell him that she intended to have an abortion.
Beshear, a former attorney general, also said the bill was “probably unconstitutional,” noting that similar laws elsewhere have been struck down by the Supreme Court. He pointed to provisions in the Kentucky bill that require physicians performing nonsurgical procedures to maintain licensing privileges for hospitals in “geographic proximity” to where the procedures are being performed.
“The Supreme Court has ruled such requirements unconstitutional because they make it impossible for women, including a child victim of rape or incest, to receive a trial in certain areas of the state,” the governor said.
Opponents of the Kentucky law say its restrictions are so onerous that no abortion clinic could comply.
The state Republican Party harshly criticized Beshear for the veto. It will likely be an issue again next year when the governor runs for a second term in Republican-leaning Kentucky.
On Friday, state GOP spokesman Sean Southard said the governor’s veto was “the latest action in his ideological war against conservative Kentuckian values.”
Pro-choice advocates defended the governor’s action. Jackie McGranahan, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the law aims to “shame and ostracize patients” and “put a safe and effective method of abortion out of reach.”
Another important part of the bill would establish regulations for the dispensing of abortion pills. It would require women to be personally screened by a doctor before receiving the drug.
This part of the bill is part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to restrict doctors’ ability to prescribe abortion pills via telemedicine, and comes in response to the growing use of pills instead of surgery to terminate early pregnancies.
About half of all abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medical interventions.