Attorney General Daniel Cameron
Kentucky Health News
Reacting to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s order that apparently lets abortions continue during the covid-19 pandemic, Republican legislators have adopted a countermeasure.
A Senate amendment to House Bill 451 Thursday would allow Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron to close abortion clinics during the pandemic. The House-passed version of the bill would have simply allowed the attorney general to enforce abortion regulations.
The revised version would give Cameron power to enforce gubernatorial emergency orders “relating to elective medical procedures, including but not limited to abortion.” Beshear issued an order banning “non-urgent, in-person” medical procedures during the pandemic, “citing the need to conserve medical resources,” notes Louisville’s WFPL.
The revisions included an emergency clause, so if the legislature passes the bill, presumably over a veto by Beshear, it could create the first open conflict between him and Cameron, who succeeded him in the office.
He added, “Now is not the time for any traditional battles that might have happened between various parties, we push aside every bill that might upset or concern people, we pass a budget, we pass any other bill that helps us with the coronavirus, and we go home.”Asked about the bill, Beshear said, “This is the coronavirus we’re facing, and every day that we focus on anything else – I know that this is an issue that’s really important to people in numerous ways, but every day we get together and we pass bills on other things, and every day we shift our focus, and every day we focus on something that can stir people up at a time we need them to be calm, I just don’t think we are doing the right thing.”
Beshear’s order said the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services would rely on the judgment of “licensed health-care professionals” in deciding whether a medical procedure should be allowed. Generally, medical professional groups do not consider abortion an elective procedure, and Kentucky law bans abortions after 20 weeks, creating urgency in some cases.
Kate Miller, advocacy director for ACLU of Kentucky, told WFPL that women seeking abortions would be in a “desperate situation” if the attorney general shut down the state’s two providers, both in Louisville. “People are in desperate situations right now and the government should never have the power to force someone to stay pregnant against their will.”
Ed Harpring, pro-life coordinator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, told the Courier Journal this week that abortion providers should suspend services during the coronavirus emergency. “It seems like they are getting a pass,” he said.
Republicans have supermajorities in both houses of the General Assembly, but Beshear and others have said they need to avoid controversial legislation and limit their business to the state budget and legislation related to the pandemic, so prospects for the bill’s passage are unclear.
If passed by the Senate, it would return to the House for approval of the change, and House Speaker David Osborne said Thursday that the House would not pass any anti-abortion bills that day. He said an abortion bill might come to a House vote on one of the other two or three days that the legislature plans to meet before it must adjourn April 15, but “We are dealing with things that we have to get done right now, and those are going to take priority.”
Republican officials in other states have moved to limit abortions during the pandemic. “Anti-abortion groups have asked the federal government to urge abortion providers to ‘cease operations’ and donate medical equipment to the coronavirus response, Ryland Barton of WFPL reports.
Asked if Cameron thinks abortions are elective procedures, his office did not answer directly, telling Barton that the bill “clarifies the law in these areas.” Cameron “campaigned heavily on the abortion issue, taking up the defense of Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws that have been challenged in federal court,” Barton notes.