Legislature Votes To Give AG Power To Halt Abortions During Pandemic

Apr 16, 2020

Credit J. Tyler Franklin

In the waning hours of the legislative session, Kentucky lawmakers voted to give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron power to enforce abortion regulations and shut down providers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Anti-abortion activists have criticized Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for not shutting down the state’s two abortion providers under his ban on elective procedures during the pandemic.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Crofton, called Beshear, a “hypocrite.”

“If he would actually step up and do the job he’s been elected to do and enforce his own order, we wouldn’t have to put this language in this bill,” Westefield said.

Beshear has said doctors can determine what counts as an elective procedure and that he hasn’t enforced any orders for offices to close.

House Bill 451 would expand Attorney General Cameron’s powers and would allow him to seek civil and criminal penalties against abortion providers—a role normally reserved for the state’s health cabinet.

The bill also defines abortion as an elective procedure that should be restricted during Kentucky’s current state of emergency.

Cameron weighed in on the issue last month, calling for abortion providers to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement he said that shuttering providers would preserve medical supplies.

“Abortion providers should join the thousands of other medical professionals across the state in ceasing elective procedures, unless the life of the mother is at risk, to protect the health of their patients and slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Cameron said.

Cameron took office in December, becoming Kentucky’s first Republican attorney general since 1947.

Also on the last day of session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 9 that would make it a class-D felony if a physician doesn’t try to resuscitate an infant that is “born alive” following an abortion attempt.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted remotely by emailing in their votes and comments to designated managers on the House Floor.

House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins read Louisville Democratic Rep. Charles Booker’s explanation of his vote against the “born alive” bill.

“On behalf of Kentuckians who need us to address their concerns during this pandemic and not pass unnecessary and inflammatory bills while the public is locked out, I vote no,” Jenkins said.

The legislature is not allowed to meet again this year unless Beshear calls them in for a special session. Because of that, Beshear could veto the bills and lawmakers would not have a chance to override.