Politics & Government

A national abortion rights group just took sides in Kentucky’s Democratic governor race

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear picked up a last-minute endorsement Monday from a staunch national abortion rights group in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for governor.

The National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws, also known as NARAL, said they endorsed Beshear in a tight race on the eve of Kentucky’s primary election because he represents the best chance to beat Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in November.

“Kentucky women and families deserve someone who will fight for them as governor, and Andy Beshear has always been there to defend Kentuckians’ rights and freedoms,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Kentucky is one of several states that passed an extreme ban on abortion this year, criminalizing abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant, in large part due to anti-choice governor Matt Bevin. Andy represents our strongest bet to defeat Bevin, bring real change to Frankfort, and protect the rights of all Kentucky families.”

Abortion rights have long played an important role in Kentucky politics. Earlier this year, the Republican-led General Assembly approved several bills limiting abortion rights in the state. Beshear warned lawmakers not to approve at least one of them because he believes it to be unconstitutional — a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected which is about six weeks into a pregnancy.

He also joined the ACLU in a lawsuit to prevent the Bevin administration from shutting down Kentucky’s only abortion clinic after the state moved to enforce regulations requiring the clinic to have mandatory patient transfer agreements with an ambulance service and hospital.

But Beshear has also defended a law passed in 2017 that requires doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the results of that procedure to a woman seeking an abortion. He said he has an obligation at attorney general to defend state laws if their constitutionality is unclear.

“It is also my duty to defend laws where the constitutionality is questionable and finality is needed,” Beshear said at the time. “Adhering to these duties is why, after close review, my agencies will defend the agencies sued over HB 2 that seek our representation.”

A federal court recently upheld the law.

Beshear’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Jacqueline Coleman, says she now supports abortion rights but ran in 2014 as a “pro-life Democrat.”

Beshear earned the endorsement over former state auditor Adam Edelen, who has said abortion rights are vital in order to ensure equality for women, and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, who voted for several anti-abortion bills this year.

“NARAL is on the front lines of the battle for women to make their own health care decisions, and I deeply appreciate their trust and support,” said Beshear. “As attorney general, I’ve been the last line of defense for Kentucky women these last three years, and I have consistently stood up to Matt Bevin when he has tried to undermine and attack women’s rights. Others may say they are pro-choice, but I am the only candidate in this race who has done more than just talk when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.”

Republicans are sure to make abortion a key issue in November’s general election. Bevin has called himself “the most pro-life governor in America.” In his State of the Commonwealth Address earlier this year, Bevin said he is proud to live in an anti-abortion rights state.

“I am so proud and so grateful to be a governor in a state where these chambers, an overwhelming majority, 80 plus percent of bipartisan support are strongly pro-life,” Bevin said. “How awesome that in Kentucky, we value life.”

The hot-button issue has been stoked by the addition of two new U.S. Supreme Court justices since President Donald Trump took office, prompting many conservative states to pass laws placing new restrictions on abortion. Those laws are now being challenged in court and could eventually make their way to the Supreme Court, where anti-abortion rights advocates hope the high court will overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The endorsement comes as the Democratic candidates for governor made their final push before Tuesday’s election. Beshear opted to spend his time in Western Kentucky Monday while Adkins took his “Rock the Bluegrass” tour to his home base in Eastern Kentucky. Edelen spent the day meeting voters in Louisville and Meade County.

Along with NARAL, Beshear has picked up endorsements from several longtime Democratic politicians, such as former Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, former Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen and former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Edelen has received the endorsement of the Jefferson County Teacher’s Association and Kentucky Fairness, the state’s largest LGBT rights group. Adkins has been endorses by former Gov. Paul Patton and several labor groups.