Abortion has remained a flashpoint in Kentucky’s highly-contested gubernatorial race, with Gov. Matt Bevin (R) repeatedly attacking Democrat Andy Beshear’s support for abortion rights.
The focus on abortion has attracted national groups on both sides. The anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List Action PAC announced in late August a massive ground effort in support of Bevin. The organization, according to a press release, plans to knock on more than 200,000 doors ahead of election day this November.
Susan B. Anthony List Action PAC created a website devoted to ensuring the Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, doesn’t ascend to the state’s highest office. Using inflammatory language, the site lambasts Beshear’s endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The anti-choice organization did not respond to a request for comment.
NARAL Pro-Choice America told Rewire.News it was “proud” of its endorsement of Beshear. “While Andy stands up for Kentuckians’ fundamental freedoms, Matt Bevin works in lock-step with extreme anti-choice politicians, including working to pass a devastating bill this year that criminalizes abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant,” Amanda Thayer, a spokesperson for NARAL, said in a statement. “That’s why NARAL has activated our members in Kentucky to support Andy’s campaign and make sure that Kentucky families have a governor who fights for them, not anti-choice extremists.”
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Last month Bevin held a press conference to accuse Beshear of taking “blood money” from the owners of the state’s last abortion clinic. A spokesperson for the Beshear campaign told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the governor’s language “is dangerous and unacceptable.”
Within days of that press conference, Bevin’s running mate Ralph Alvarado called Beshear “Abortion Andy” during a speech, according to local news outlet WFPL. And after Beshear released his first television ad in the general election, in which he discussed how his family’s Baptist faith informed his politics, Bevin responded by posting a video to Facebook blasting his opponent. The governor criticized Beshear’s position on abortion—even though the ad did not mention the issue—and called it “insulting to people of Baptist faith.”
“There is no middle ground here, this is not a time to hold your powder dry or wait and see what someone else is doing,” Bevin said in the video. “This is a time to stand up and be counted for. Because if we can’t stand up for human life, the dignity of human life …. when can we and on what issue will we be willing to stand?”
A spokesperson for the Beshear campaign criticized the charged language Bevin used in his social media response. “Matt Bevin continues to use the type of violent language that can get people hurt, and he is now specifically requesting for people not to ‘hold your powder dry,’” Eric Hyers, Beshear’s campaign manager, said in a statement, noting that the comments came after a string of mass shootings.
Marcie Crim, executive director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said Bevin’s anti-abortion rhetoric is “dangerous” in several ways. “It gives people permission to use similar language to discount” the experiences of people who have had abortions, Crim told Rewire.News. Crim said she has seen anti-choice state lawmakers follow the governor’s lead and “some of the language that he uses [is] reflected in the language of some of these bills” restricting abortion.
“It’s dangerous because they’re creating laws that are creating barriers for people who are trying to access abortion care,” Crim said.
She noted an increase in protesters outside of the state’s last remaining abortion clinic since Bevin took office. “When I think back four years ago, there were a handful of protesters outside the clinic on a regular basis,” she said. “And now on some Saturdays, there’s 40, 50, or there have even been hundreds. And that is creating a dangerous situation for patients who were trying to walk into the clinic.”
The governor has focused on abortion in the race because “it’s the only thing that Bevin has left to campaign on,” Crim said. “He can’t campaign on any success because he hasn’t had any success except for signing bills to restrict access to abortion.” Even those wins for Bevin are limited, as several of the anti-abortion laws he signed have been “stripped down” by courts, Crim said.
“The only thing he has is to jump up and down and scream about abortion,” Crim said.
Reproductive rights and health was a key issue during the state’s Democratic primary, with abortion rights dividing the field of candidates. Though Beshear is running on a pro-choice platform, his running mate Jacqueline Coleman called herself “a pro-life, compassionate Democrat” during a 2014 candidate forum. She has since clarified that while she is “personally pro-life,” she does “not believe politicians should impose their views on others, which is why I support each individual woman’s constitutional right to make her own reproductive and health-care decisions.”
Another candidate who ran in the Democratic primary, State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, is a member of the Kentucky General Assembly’s “Pro-Life Caucus” and voted for extreme anti-abortion legislation, including a six-week ban that would have criminalized abortion before many know they are pregnant. Having lost the gubernatorial primary contest, Adkins is now considering a challenge to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).
Kentucky’s race for governor is listed as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.