FRANKFORT — After days of refusing to answer a question about when abortion should be legal, Republican Andy Barr acknowledged Thursday that he believes the practice is acceptable only when the life of a mother is in danger.
After a campaign rally in Frankfort, Barr was reminded that he told the Herald-Leader in 2010 that there should be only one exception to a ban on abortion.
"Other than when the life of the mother is at stake, I believe Congress should do all that it can to protect the life of every human being — born or unborn," Barr answered in a Herald-Leader questionnaire two years ago.
The newspaper specifically asked, "In what instances do you think abortion should be legal?"
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On Thursday, Barr said his stance has not changed on the issue since 2010, when the Lexington attorney lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler by 648 votes.
"No, I haven't changed my mind since 2010," he said.
The controversial issue arose in a debate Monday between the 6th Congressional District candidates when moderator Bill Goodman asked about exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
Barr repeatedly said he was proud to be pro-life and mentioned abortion issues that might come before Congress — such as partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding for abortion. Barr also deflected reporters' questions about abortion exceptions after the debate and on the campaign trail this week.
Barr was asked Thursday why he repeatedly declined this week to talk about any exceptions for abortion when he mentioned one in 2010.
"I see what you mean," he said. "There is no inconsistency. That is my answer."
Barr said he is simply "trying to reach consensus on a difficult issue."
"We should encourage a culture of life; however, I believe that because this is such a difficult and divisive issue that divides America, I think the important thing for a leader is to try to build consensus where we can," Barr said. "And I think the vast majority of the people of this country have come to the conclusion that wherever you are on this issue, we shouldn't have taxpayer funding for abortion."
Barr said he found the media's interest in his answer to the abortion question "interesting."
"The only people that have put this issue front-and-center are KET and the Herald-Leader," he said. "The issue that is front-and-center in this race is jobs and the economy."
Barr said the important question on abortion in the campaign should be why Chandler has voted for taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services.
Chandler campaign spokeswoman Meghan Groob said Chandler, who has been in Congress since 2004, has voted against taxpayer-funded abortion but not to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.
"It's no surprise that Andy Barr opposes funding for an organization that cares for women's health and provides free cancer screenings," Groob said. "This is a guy who thinks a woman who has been raped shouldn't be given control of her own body."
Chandler has said abortion is a tragedy but that the decision should be left up to a woman and her doctor.
Groob accused Barr of belittling women's issues after Barr skipped the Fayette County Domestic Violence Prevention forum for candidates on Tuesday.
"While the economy is no doubt our country's chief concern, it is deeply offensive to suggest that women's rights are not an important issue worthy of discussion," she said.
Barr said he had already scheduled campaign stops in Nicholas County on Tuesday and could not attend the forum.
Abortion has been a tricky political question for Republicans nationally this campaign season, entangling Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana. Akin's reference to "legitimate rape" and Mourdock's statement that pregnancies resulting from rape are intended by God produced a national firestorm. Mourdock later said he was not talking specifically about rape but about how all conceptions are due to God.
Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said Thursday that allowing an abortion when the mother's life is in danger has been acceptable to many right-to-life supporters.
She said doctors should do all they can to save the life of the mother and child. "But I think it's a very rare situation. We support Andy Barr because he is pro-life."
In his answer in the 2010 Herald-Leader questionnaire about abortion exceptions, Chandler said: "We must reduce the number of abortions. And while I oppose partial-birth abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion, ultimately, this difficult decision ought to be made by the woman in consultation with her family, her physician and her faith."
He gave an almost identical answer in 2012.
Barr did not directly answer the newspaper's question this year about when abortion should be legal: "I am strongly pro-life. I believe that the United States Supreme Court wrongly decided Roe v. Wade, and that the legality of abortion is a matter that should be decided by each state's legislature. I will fight any taxpayer funding of abortion."