Abortion is perhaps one of the most polarizing issues in Kentucky. In 2014, about 57 percent of Kentuckians said the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. A recent spate of legislation to restrict abortion passed the Republican-led legislature, and has drawn legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
The topic has also emerged as a key issue in this year’s gubernatorial primary, and the candidates’ views differ even within party lines.
Here’s a look at where each candidate stands. (Note: Of the candidates, Republicans Matt Bevin, Robert Goforth and Ike Lawrence declined a request for a sit-down interview to discuss their policies with WFPL. Because Bevin and Goforth have made public statements, their positions have been summarized from their statements and records on the issue.)
Governor Matt Bevin
New York State loosened restrictions on abortion earlier this year, and Bevin made it clear he is actively doing the opposite in Kentucky.
“As we have seen the horrific legislation that has come out of states like New York, it’s disgusting and I’m grateful for the fact that this state stands on the side of life,” Bevin said at the state of the commonwealth address in February. “And indeed, it’s not just simply saying it, its passing legislation in recent years.”
Bevin signed four new laws this past session that put more restrictions on abortion access — two of which are being challenged in court.
State Representative Robert Goforth
Goforth declined to be interviewed. However, he has a record of introducing and supporting bills that restrict abortion.
This year he sponsored a bill that would ban women from receiving abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually is at the sixth week of pregnancy. The Senate version of that bill ended up being signed into law. He we also one of several sponsors of a successful bill that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
William Woods, a school bus driver from Northern Kentucky and former candidate for the Kentucky House of Representatives, said he identifies as pro-life. However, he says government should not be involved in a woman’s decision.
“What are we doing telling somebody that they have to have a child no matter what?” Woods asked. “That is not the United States of America. It’s certainly not Kentucky.”
State Representative Rocky Adkins
Adkins said he he identifies as “pro-life.” But, he says, women who decide against receiving an abortion should then get as much support as possible after giving birth.
“I represent a very conservative district and you know, you express the views of your constituents on your vote: my stance is that I am pro-life,” Adkins said. “The definition of that with pro-life with me is that we take care of these babies after they’re born, we make sure they got a warm meal on the table, we make sure that they’ve got quality public education, we make sure they got quality health care.”
Adkins wouldn’t say whether or not he would continue Gov. Matt Bevin’s defense of abortion restriction laws in court specifically. He did, however, say that he would “uphold the law of the land” when it comes to abortion, and left the door open for supporting anti-abortion laws if the U.S. Supreme Court alters its Roe v. Wade decision.
“You look at each law that comes through the door. Whatever the Supreme Court ruling has been, I would be the person that would uphold the law of the land,” Adkins said.
This year Adkins voted in favor of the bill that would totally ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned and also supported the measure banning the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The “heartbeat bill” has been temporarily blocked while it is challenged in court.
Former State Auditor Adam Edelen
Edelen also said he wouldn’t continue the state’s defense of abortion restriction laws that are currently in court.
“I am unapologetically a strong advocate of a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions,” Edelen said. “Beyond that, it galls me that in a time and place when we’re on the verge of laying off school teachers, that we’re hiring lawyers to fight lawsuits that have no chance of winning under the current law of the land.”
Attorney General Andy Beshear
Beshear has declined to defend some of Kentucky’s abortion restrictions in court, but defended state agencies named in the lawsuit over the ultrasound abortion requirement that passed in 2017. The law, which was recently upheld by a federal appeals court, requires doctors to perform an ultrasound and present results to the patient before providing an abortion. Beshear has also said that some anti-abortion bills violate the Constitution and has advised the legislature against passing them.
“I am pro choice — I believe in Roe v. Wade,” Beshear said. “And as opposed to just talking about it, I’ve taken action. In 2019, when they were passing unconstitutional bills, I’d even [written] them the letter and went on the record saying it was unconstitutional. And it’s going to cost the state tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Young, a retired state engineer from Lexington, says the abortion restriction laws should be overturned and that the anti-abortion movement is immoral.
“As a Democrat, I have been accused for 46 years, as all other Democrats have been accused of, being baby killers. And I’m sick and tired of it,” Young said. “Planned Parenthood and the Democratic party are the true pro-life Americans. We are proposing policies that will reduce the abortion rate over time.”