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Beshear Will Defend Abortion Ultrasound Law, Won't Defend 20-Week Ban

Andy Beshear
J. Tyler Franklin
Andy Beshear

Attorney General Andy Beshear says he will not defend the state if it is sued over a law passed by the state legislature last week banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But Beshear, the Kentucky's top law enforcement official, said he would defend the state in a lawsuit against another new law requiring abortion doctors to narrate an ultrasound as they perform the procedure on women seeking abortions.

Both laws went into effect over the weekend after Gov. Matt Bevin signed the legislation during a speedy first-week of the newly Republican-led General Assembly.

Beshear said his office wouldn’t represent the state on the 20-week ban because it is “clearly unconstitutional” and that identical laws have been struck down in other jurisdictions.

In a statement, Beshear said it was his duty to enforce the Constitution and that he would defend, HB 2.

“It is also my duty to defend laws where the constitutionality is questionable and finality is needed,” he said. “Adhering to these duties is why, after close review, my office will defend the agencies sued over House Bill 2 that seek our representation.”

The ACLU of Kentucky and EMW Women’s Clinic, the last abortion provider in Kentucky, filed a lawsuit against the state Monday, saying that the new law violated women’s right to privacy and the free speech rights of doctors and patients.

Bevin took to Facebook Live to blast Beshear, saying that the attorney general isn’t fulfilling his duties.

“Our attorney general apparently is under the impression that he gets to pick and choose when he does his job,” Bevin said. “He has made clear that he’s going to pander to liberal donors rather than you the voters. You should be outraged, you should be offended, you should demand and expect better than that.”

Both anti-abortion bills easily passed the Republican-controlled state legislature, with many Democrats voting for the measure, too.

“This is something that is widely popular, the vast majority of Kentuckians want this,” Bevin said. “Shame on our attorney general for playing partisan politics rather than doing his job.”

In 2014, a federal appeals court struck down a similar law in North Carolina and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal of the case. A federal court also struck down an abortion ultrasound law in Idaho.

“Whether a mandatory ultrasound and explanation is constitutional has split the two federal appellate circuits that have directly addressed it," Beshear said. "The Sixth Circuit that includes Kentucky, has not rendered a decision. I will advise that this matter has risks and potential costs, which resulted in over $1 million in legal fees to North Carolina, which lost its defense."

Though no suit has yet been filed against the 20-week abortion ban, Beshear's announcement that he wouldn't defend the law hearkens back to his predecessor Jack Conway, who refused to defend the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2014.

Former Gov. Steve Beshear, the current attorney general's father, instead hired an outside attorney to defend the gay marriage ban. The case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was struck down in June 2015.

The ACLU's lawsuit against Kentuckys abortion ultrasound bill will be heard by U.S. District Judge David Hale.

This story has been updated.

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