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Democrat-led bill, Hadley’s Law, would add exceptions to Ky.’s near-total abortion ban

Gov. Andy Beshear speaks on the abortion exceptions proposed in Hadley's Law, alongside Sen. David Yates and Hadley Duvall, an advocate for abortion rights and survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Sylvia Goodman
Gov. Andy Beshear speaks on the abortion exceptions proposed in Hadley's Law, alongside Sen. David Yates and Hadley Duvall, an advocate for abortion rights and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, on Tuesday Jan. 9th, 2024.

Louisville Democratic Sen. David Yates is set to introduce a bill that would add several exceptions including rape and incest to Kentucky’s ban on abortion, which currently only allows abortion if there’s a life-threatening health risk to the pregnant patient.

Since she appeared in an advertisement for Gov. Andy Beshear’s reelection campaign, Hadley Duvall said it is her mission to support women and girls — especially those who have been victims of the same sexual abuse she faced as a child.

Duvall stood up with Yates Tuesday to announce the eponymous Hadley’s Law, which would introduce several new exceptions, including for rape and incest, to Kentucky’s near total ban on abortion.

“This bill is about compassion and empathy. I'm here with a clear message to say that unless you've been in this position, you have no idea what any woman or girl is currently going through,” Duvall said. “There should be options. The legislators shouldn't feel entitled to force victims who have stories like mine to carry a baby of their rapist.”

Duvall was sexually abused by her stepfather for years as a child. At 12, she became pregnant. Duvall miscarried before she had to decide whether she would keep the pregnancy. She said she doesn’t want to encourage or force women in this situation to get an abortion, but she said they shouldn’t be forced to give birth either.

“Those women and girls need their choices. This bill will provide those,” Duvall said. “I decided to start speaking out because I want people to understand, to think through the real world implications of the current law in Kentucky. At the age of 12, under this current law, I would have had no choice.”

Hadley’s Law would allow abortions for women who become pregnant through rape or incest or those whose pregnancies are no longer viable. The full language of the bill is not yet public, but Yates said it would also expand the exceptions for the safety and health of the mother.

“It's very limited. We limited it in this particular bill because that's what we think may pass,” Yates said. “I'm calling our legislators to have the compassion to pass this bill with bipartisan support.”

Yates said he would introduce Hadley’s Law on Tuesday and had high hopes that he would be able to get some of his Republican colleagues on board this session.

Last year, Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes filed a bill to add rape and incest exceptions to Kentucky’s abortion bans for up to 15 weeks. But the bill quickly died in the House.

Before the state Senate voted to put in place the current abortion ban, Louisville Sen. Denise Harper Angel, a Democrat, proposed an amendment to allow exceptions for rape and incest, but it was voted down.

“I think, since then, several members have regretted that vote. I've sent a notice that I intend to do this,” Yates. “We'll try to get as many co-sponsors as we can.”

No Republicans appeared at the news conference. Without some of their support, the measure would stand no chance of passing in the state’s Republican controlled legislature.

Beshear also voiced support for the bill saying he would immediately sign it if it landed on his desk. Adding exceptions to the state’s abortion ban was a large component of Beshear’s reelection campaign last year.

“In the world that used to exist — the Roe v. Wade world — you could have been pro this or pro that, but still have enough empathy and human decency to say that victims of rape and incest deserve options,” Beshear said. “I believe the vast majority of Kentuckians agree, and I hope that the representatives and senators will do the will of the people and quickly pass this bill into law.”

In 2022, Kentucky voters struck down a state constitutional amendment that would have denied any constitutional protection for abortion. Some took that as a sign that Kentuckians felt the state’s abortion ban went too far.

Tamarra Wieder, the state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said she understands the desire to cut into the state’s abortion ban, but feels adding narrow exceptions will do little to help women and providers.

“Exceptions are not effective policy, especially in banned states, because there are all these laws and restrictions that criminalize providers, they put a lot of liability on hospitals, and they chill care,” Wieder said. “Providers are afraid.”

Wieder said legislating health care choices can also drive providers out of the state. In Kentucky, many counties don’t even have a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, and Wieder said she believes it will only get worse as OBGYNs are faced with criminalization for providing what they may believe is the best care.

“In practice, we're not going to see providers carry this out. They're going to have a mountain of liability to work through,” Wieder said.

Republican leadership have expressed some interest in revisiting the near-total abortion ban. Sen. Robert Stivers from Manchester pointed out that the ban does include one exception, to save the life of the mother, which he said seems to be one of few points of agreement.

“It's the toughest issue to deal with, because it's so personal to so many people for different reasons,” Stivers said.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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