Abortion-rights supporters report raising more funds than backers of anti-abortion ballot measure; Lexington mayor opposes it; Beshear reflects poll

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Abortion is on Kentucky’s ballot. The state’s portal for requesting an absentee ballot opened Saturday, Sept. 24, and the ballot will have this question:

Are you in favor of amending the Constitution of Kentucky by creating a new Section of the Constitution to be numbered Section 26A to state as follows: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion”?

Quotation marks have been added above to make the meaning clear, but a lot of time and money will be spent explaining the amendment and persuading voters to vote for or against it. Groups on either side have reported raising more than $2 million so far as of Sept. 9, the end of the latest reporting period.

Almost four-fifths of the money reported has been raised by Protect Kentucky Access, which opposes the amendment. It has reported raising just over $1,750,000 and spending almost $521,000.

Yes for Life, which supports the amendment, has reported raising almost $460,000 and spending just over $50,000 through Sept. 9.

In the latest reporting period, Yes For Life raised “an additional $111,000 from Right to Life affiliates, $94,000 from the Family Foundation, $72,000 from the Kentucky Baptist Convention and $64,000 from the Catholic Conference of Kentucky — the same four groups that made up nearly all of of Yes For Life’s $85,000 of contributions last year,” reports Joe Sonka of the Courier Journal.

Addia Wuchner, executive director of the Kentucky Right to Life Association and chair of Yes For life, “said its coalition started out with a handful of organizations but there’s a ‘groundswell’ of more organizations taking up their cause,” reports the CJ’s Morgan Watkins.

Sonka writes, “The fundraising figures of the two groups are expected to significantly rise as the high-stakes referendum on abortion rights draws nearer, just as they did in Kansas this summer — where groups on both sides of a similar constitutional amendment spent more than $22 million,” in almost equal amounts. The amendment, similar to the Kentucky proposal, lost by a 3-2 margin. The woman who ran the campaign against it is now running the Protect Kentucky Access campaign.

Protect Kentucky Access raised most of its money after the U.S. Supreme Court’s late-June decision overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had created a constitutional right to abortion. Most of that money came from affiliates of Planned Parenthood, which gave $701,000 during the last reporting period, for a total of $936,000.

Other major givers to the abortion-rights group during the period included the American Civil Liberties Union, $300,000,; Families United for Freedom, a federal political committee, $250,000; and 34 individual physicians, $26,750. Several other contributors were from the health-care industry.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton, a nurse by profession for 40 years, wasn’t on the list, but she announced Thursday that she would vote against the amendment because health-care decisions should be between a patient and a doctor.

“The government has no business in that exam room,” Gorton said. “That is why on Nov. 8 I am voting ‘No’ on Amendment 2 and I want you to do the same.”

Gorton made her announcement in a video on the Facebook page of her campaign for re-election as mayor. The race is nonpartisan but she is a registered Republican. Her opponent, Councilman David Kloiber, is a Democrat.

“Kloiber, a first-term councilman who runs his family’s foundation, has said if he is elected, he would direct police not to investigate doctors, health care providers or women for abortions,” reports Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Kloiber has also said he would make sure the city’s health insurance covers abortions out of state. Gorton has said she can’t tell police what laws to enforce and what laws not to enforce, saying that’s a dangerous precedent.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who generally supports abortion rights but opposes late-term abortions, has said voters should reject the amendment because it includes no exceptions for rape, incest or saving the life of the pregnant woman.

Beshear’s stand reflects public opinion as measured by a poll of 475 Kentuckians who were surveyed from June 8 to July 6. (Roe v. Wade was overturned June 24, but Politico revealed the essence of the decision May 2.)

Courier Journal graph; error margin calculated and added by Kentucky Health News

If Kentucky voters approve the amendment Nov. 8, it would render moot a case that the Kentucky Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Nov. 15: an appeal of a Louisville judge’s injunction blocking the state’s “trigger law” that outlawed almost all abortions as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. That decision also revived a state law that bans abortions if the fetus has a heartbeat, about six weeks into a pregnancy.

In issuing the injunction, Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry said the laws violate the rights to privacy, self-determination and religious freedom established by the state constitution and court decisions based on it. But the injunction was vacated by Court of Appeals Judge Larry Thompson of Pikeville, who said abortions performed while the case is pending “cannot be undone.” A divided state Supreme Court let Thompson’s ruling stand.

Only three of the seven justices (Robert Conley of Russell, Debra Lambert of Somerset and Laurance VanMeter of Lexington) fully concurred; the majority was made by Justice Michelle Keller of Fort Mitchell, who concurred in the result only and wrote a separate opinion, and Justice Shea Nickell, who joined in that opinion.

Keller, a registered independent who was appointed by then-Gov. Steve Beshear in 2013, is on the nonpartisan ballot against Republican state Rep. Joe Fischer, who sponsored the trigger law. Both are from Fort Mitchell.

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