Politics & Government

Bevin and Beshear battle over abortion law, claiming ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’

Gov. Matt Bevin claimed Wednesday that Attorney General Andy Beshear has broken his promise to defend House Bill 2, a law approved earlier this month that requires doctors to present the results of an ultrasound to women before they get an abortion.

In a 4 minute, 52 second Facebook Live video, Bevin blasted Beshear as “dishonorable” and questioned the credibility of The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

Beshear has said he will defend the law from a legal challenge filed by the ACLU of Kentucky on behalf of the state’s only licensed abortion clinic.

“Now, he’s decided he’s not going to do his job,” Bevin said of Beshear, citing a recent filing Beshear made in the lawsuit.

Bevin claimed that Beshear’s filing says “he takes no position on this bill and is now not going to defend House Bill 2.”

Beshear’s filings, though, do not say he no longer wants to defend the bill. Instead, Beshear has asked to be dismissed as a defendant of the lawsuit, noting that his office has no role in implementing the law.

As Attorney General, Beshear acts as the state’s lawyer, a job that does not require him to be listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Beshear also said in a filing that he takes no position on a motion by the ACLU asking for a temporary injunction to stop enforcement of the law. In his official capacity as attorney general, Beshear argued that he has no way of enforcing the law and that the halt would not apply to him. Lawyers for Michael Rodman, head of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, responded in a similar fashion.

Instead, the motion for a temporary injunction was opposed in a 26-page response filed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which is the agency responsible for implementing the law. A judge set a hearing for Feb. 16 to decide whether to issue the temporary halt.

“Today the governor took to Facebook to provide his own ‘alternative facts,’” Beshear said in a written statement. “His claims are false and they show once again that he clearly doesn’t understand or respect the law or the constitution. My office is actively defending agencies sued over House Bill 2. In doing so, we have taken the most aggressive action possible, moving to have the entire case dismissed as to those agencies.”

Even though Beshear has sought to dismiss the ACLU’s lawsuit, his decision to take no position on the request for a temporary injunction is proof that he is no longer defending the law, said Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel.

“Instead of taking the aggressive approach he says he took by moving to dismiss,” Pitt said, “he has completely struck out when given the opportunity to argue to the court the constitutionality of the statute and why its effectiveness should not be temporarily restrained.”

Republican lawmakers also have been critical of Beshear’s response to House Bill 2 and another new law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The late-term abortion ban has not yet been challenged in court, but Beshear has said his office will not defend it because it “is clearly unconstitutional based on our review of numerous federal appellate rulings, which state that identical statutes in other jurisdictions are illegal under numerous Supreme Court decisions.”

Beshear also said federal appeals courts have issued contradictory rulings on mandatory ultrasound laws, noting that “this matter has risks and potential costs, which resulted in over $1 million in legal fees to North Carolina, which lost its defense.”

That led Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, to file a friend-of-the-court brief backing the ultrasound law and saying Beshear has been reluctant to defend it.

Both anti-abortion bills passed with overwhelming support in the General Assembly.

In his video Wednesday, Bevin accused Courier-Journal reporter Deborah Yetter of writing a “glowing article” about Beshear and his defense of the ultrasound law.

The article was headlined “Judge sets hearing in abortion law challenge” and does not mention Beshear until the seventh paragraph, which says “Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is defending the state against the challenge to the ultrasound law, though he has expressed doubts about its constitutionality, saying the court case comes with ‘risks and potential costs.’”

“She chose intentionally to disregard the truth,” Bevin said of Yetter. “I know Deborah Yetter, she’s an intelligent woman, she’s capable of having reported the truth. But in an effort to mislead the readers of The Courier-Journal, she actually perpetuated a lie.”

Courier-Journal executive editor Joel Christopher defended Yetter and her reporting.

“It was wrong for the governor to try and score political points by attacking a reporter,” Christopher said.

Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this story.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics