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Kentucky voters reject anti-abortion constitutional amendment

Abortion rights protesters in downtown Louisville on May 4, 2022.
Ryan Van Velzer
Two months after Kentucky's abortion ban was reinstated, patients are traveling to other states for access. Some of those states could soon lose access.

This story was updated at 8:40 a.m.

Initial results show Kentucky voters rejecting a ballot initiative that would have made it harder to challenge abortion laws in the state.

The Associated Press called the race for "No" voters at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday. With 89% of votes counted, those opposing the amendment led supporters by almost 70,000 votes.

The results are a boon to abortion rights advocates, who hope courts will interpret a right to abortion under the state constitution.

Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Protect Kentucky Access, said the results signify a win against government overreach.
"It represents the first time so many different organizations have come together with such an intense single-minded purpose to defeat a threat of this magnitude,” Sweet said. “While tonight we celebrate a huge and important victory, tomorrow, the work to ensure access to necessary medical care for all Kentuckians will continue. Kentuckians have spoken, and politicians in Frankfort will have to listen.”

Amendment 2 would have added the following language to the state’s constitution:

“To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

That would have given state lawmakers more power to regulate abortion, and prevented courts from finding a right to abortion under the state’s foundational document.

For months, abortion access advocates have been counting on that interpretation, as multiple lawsuits challenging state abortion laws continue.

The Kentucky Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over one of the challenges next week.

Kentucky was one of more than a dozen states with “trigger laws” on the books that went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

The law makes it a class D felony to provide abortions in all but life-threatening situations.

Kentucky also has a law on the books banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, earlier than most realize they’re pregnant.

Planned Parenthood and ACLU of Kentucky sued in state court, arguing the trigger law and six-week ban violate patients’ right to privacy under the state constitution – which doesn’t explicitly mention abortion.

Though a trial court initially blocked the laws, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in Augustthey could be enforced as legal challenges continue.

Tamarra Wieder, state director for Planned Parenthood’s Advocacy arm in Kentucky, said the results are a win for those who organized against the amendment.

“Tonight, Kentucky voters made it clear: We won't back down when politicians try to come for our right to control our own bodies and our futures. Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow, we continue to fight for everyone to have access to the care, resources, and education they deserve to lead strong, healthy lives," Wieder said in a statement.

Many medical professionals agree. More than 400 health care providers signed an open letter asking Kentuckians to vote down the amendment. They said the proposal  would prevent providers from giving necessary care, put patients’ lives at risk and make it harder to attract and retain health care workers in the commonwealth – leading to overall worse health outcomes.

During a watch party Tuesday night, advocates said they will keep fighting.

“This is just the beginning, we are not done," said Erin Smith, executive director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network. "We will not rest until we are able to have safe and healthy abortions back in this commonwealth.”

Anti-abortion lawmaker trails in race for Kentucky Supreme Court seat

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller has fended off a challenge from Republican Rep. Joe Fischer, of Fort Thomas, for the 6th Supreme Court district, which includes 21 counties stretching from the Louisville suburbs to Covington.

The race was hotly contested, as the Kentucky Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments over the state's near-total ban on abortion.

A former prosecutor and appellate judge, Keller was appointed to the northern Kentucky Supreme Court district in 2013 by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

She was elected to a full eight-year term in 2014 and has been a justice during an era when legislators have repeatedlyquestionedthe authority and makeup of the high court.

Fischer authored Kentucky’s “trigger law,” which bans abortions except in extreme cases where a pregnant person’s life is at risk. He was also the primary sponsor of the proposal to add anti-abortion language to the state constitution.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.