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Ky. Democrats make last ditch effort to pass 'Hadley's law' adding abortion exceptions

Hadley Duvall, an activist and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, spoke alongside Sen. David Yates, a Louisville Democrat, Thursday to call on the Senate to move a bill creating more exceptions to Kentucky's near-total abortion ban as the session draws to a close.
Sylvia Goodman
Hadley Duvall, an activist and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, spoke alongside Sen. David Yates, a Louisville Democrat, Thursday to call on the Senate to move a bill creating more exceptions to Kentucky's near-total abortion ban as the session draws to a close.

Hadley’s law would add exceptions for rape, incest and nonviable pregnancies, but has yet to be assigned a committee in the Senate. Now its sponsor is making a final desperate push to move the bill in the last two days of the session.

A week into the session, Louisville Democratic Sen. David Yates filed Hadley’s Law to add exceptions for rape, incest and nonviable pregnancies to Kentucky’s near-total ban on abortion.

He stood with the bill’s namesake, childhood sexual-abuse survivor and advocate Hadley Duvall, to announce the legislation, naming it one of the top Democratic priorities for the session.

Three months later and the bill hasn’t moved an inch. It hasn’t been assigned to a committee. With only two days left in the session, there is essentially no chance of the bill moving on its own. Yates said Thursday he gets frequent calls from women facing these kinds of pregnancies and survivors of abuse. He also said he has experience working with victims as a lawyer.

“We can go on and with shock and awe of these horrific cases, but damn it, they’re real. These are real cases. These are real people. It's wrong,” Yates said.

According to Senate rules, all bills should be assigned a committee within five days, and very few bills fail to receive any committee assignment. While it’s not rare for bills, especially those filed by Democrats, to never receive a hearing, it was extremely out of the ordinary for a Senate bill to not even be assigned a committee.

Only one other Senate bill did not receive a Senate committee assignment by the end of the session: Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal’s C.R.O.W.N. Act, which would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of a hairstyle historically associated with a person’s race.

Yates said he feels he has no other option but to file a “discharge petition” that would allow the bill to receive its first reading on the Senate floor. It basically says the bill has been unfairly held too long in committee, and deserves to move forward in the process. But in order for that to happen, GOP Senate President Robert Stivers would have to agree, or members of the Republican dominated Senate would have to vote in favor of it.

“So many Kentuckians are affected, and they deserve to be heard. They deserve to be heard,” Yates said. “There should be an open, honest discussion and we should come up with solutions for everybody because Kentuckians deserve to know where your elected official stands on this issue.”

Stivers said he believes the move is more of a “political statement than it is a policy maneuver” because there are only two days left in the session, and the state constitution mandates bills receive three readings, over the course of three days, in both chambers.

Under Senate rules, members can technically vote to skip two of those readings and jump right to a floor vote, but the maneuver is extremely rare.

Stivers also said no one approached him about assigning the bill.

“[I] never had any real discussion with anybody that wanted to move it,” Stivers said.

Duvall joined Yates in calling for the bill to move forward in the Senate. She said she was “heartbroken” to see so little movement during the session.

“I just hope that they know that no matter what happens, I will still fight for them always,” Duvall said. “They're always heard, even though this [bill] hasn't had the chance to be heard yet.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear also called for the legislation to be heard and supported the discharge petition.

“If somebody votes for bringing it to the floor, it means they support exceptions for rape and incest in our state law,” Beshear said. “If they vote against it, that means it’s not getting to the floor, that means they are against adding exceptions.”

Beshear made adding these exceptions a centerpiece of his reelection campaign last year, including an ad that featured Duvall.

A House Republican filed his own bill to add exceptions to the abortion ban, although more conservative than Yates’. That bill also moved nowhere and did not receive a committee assignment.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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

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