FRANKFORT, Ky. – Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a Republican-priority measure on Friday that would ban abortions in Kentucky after 15 weeks of pregnancy and regulate the dispensing of abortion pills.
The governor raised doubts about the constitutionality of the bill and criticized it for not including exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
State lawmakers will have a chance to override the veto when they reconvene 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 state Republican Party spokesman called the veto the latest example of the governor's “ideological war” on conservative values.
The proposal reflects the latest attempt by Kentucky lawmakers to put more restrictions and conditions on abortion since the GOP took complete control of the legislature after the 2016 election.
The proposed 15-week ban is modeled after a Mississippi law under review by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could dramatically limit abortion rights. By taking the preemptive action, the bill's supporters say that Kentucky’s stricter ban would be in place if the Mississippi law is upheld.
Kentucky law currently bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Beshear on Friday condemned the bill for failing to 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, not be further scarred through a process that exposes them to more harm from their rapists or that treats them like offenders themselves.”
The governor said the bill would make it harder for girls under 18 to end a pregnancy without notifying both parents. As an example, he said that a girl impregnated by her father would have to notify him of her intent to get an abortion.
Beshear, a former state attorney general, also said the bill is “likely unconstitutional,” noting that similar laws elsewhere were struck down by the Supreme Court. He pointed to provisions in the Kentucky bill requiring doctors performing nonsurgical procedures to maintain hospital admitting privileges in “geographical proximity” to where the procedures are performed.
“The Supreme Court has ruled such requirements unconstitutional as it makes it impossible for women, including a child who is a victim of rape or incest, to obtain a procedure in certain areas of the state,” the governor said.
Opponents of the Kentucky bill say its restrictions are so onerous that no abortion clinic could comply.
The state Republican Party sharply criticized Beshear for the veto. It will likely surface as an issue again next year when the governor runs for a second term in Republican-trending Kentucky.
On Friday, state GOP spokesperson Sean Southard said the governor's veto was "the latest action in his ideological war on the conservative values held by Kentuckians.”
Abortion rights supporters defended the governor's action. Jackie McGranahan, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the bill aims to “shame and ostracize patients” and “push a safe and effective method of abortion care out of reach.”
Another key part of the bill would set regulations for the dispensing of abortion pills. It would require women to be examined in person by a doctor before receiving the medication.
That part of the bill is part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to limit the ability of physicians to prescribe abortion pills by telemedicine, and comes in response to the increased use of pills rather than surgery to terminate early pregnancies.
About half of all abortions performed in Kentucky are the result of medication procedures.