House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook | Photo via LRC Public Information

The three major Democratic candidates for governor this year all share agreement over their criticism of Gov. Matt Bevin’s performance in office the past three years, but have already shown stark differences when it comes to public policy regarding abortion and reproductive rights.

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, who announced his run for governor in November, is a longtime member of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Pro-Life Caucus, whose members held a news conference on Thursday touting a bill that would make it a Class D felony to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

While Adkins did not attend the news conference, members of the caucus expressed hope that if passed into law, a legal challenge to it could end up in the Supreme Court of the United States and lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 46-year old decision that legalized abortion throughout the country.

Asked if Adkins supported this heartbeat bill, his campaign manager referred Insider Louisville to House Democratic spokesman Brian Wilkerson, who stated that “there have been more than 200 bills introduced this week, and as with any bill, Leader Adkins is reviewing the implications of the legislation.”

Adkins has voted for bills to restrict access to abortion in the past two session of the General Assembly, including a bill to ban an abortion after 11 weeks and a bill to mandate that a doctor describe an ultrasound of the fetus to a patient before performing an abortion. Both laws have been blocked from implementation by lawsuits.

Adkins’ running mate Steph Horne — a former board member of the Jefferson County Board of Education — told Insider Louisville that “while I respect the views of all Kentuckians on this issue, I believe this decision is a personal one and should be left to a woman, her faith and her doctor.”

On the other hand, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen issued a statement Friday blasting the fetal heartbeat bill as “dangerous to the health of Kentucky women,” adding that it “will cost taxpayers a fortune in expensive litigation.”

“Unsurprisingly, when they aren’t trying to take away healthcare from the working poor, Frankfort politicians are busy throwing up more roadblocks to women’s reproductive health,” said Edelen. “Simply put, Kentucky women deserve a government that respects them enough to stay out of their doctor’s office. … It’s a bad bill and Kentucky lawmakers should reject it.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear — who announced his candidacy for governor last summer — told Insider in an interview that it is the duty of elected officials to oppose legislation that violates that Constitution, and “if it violated the Constitution, as our Supreme Court has set out what it meant, I would not support legislation that does violate it.”

Asked if he believed that the heartbeat bill violated the U.S. Constitution, Beshear replied that “we’re still analyzing that final version.”

Asked if he considers himself pro-choice or pro-life on abortion policy, Beshear answered: “Personally, I’ve got two amazing children that were born a year and three days apart. So while I don’t think I would personally ever make that decision, I believe that the Supreme Court right now has it about right and that ultimately we need to uphold the law of the land as it’s been held to be the last 20 or 30 years now.”

Insider sought further clarification on this answer from the Beshear campaign, with a spokesman, Brad Bowman, stating that Beshear “is pro-choice and currently analyzing the constitutionality of the heartbeat bill.”

There is only one clinic left in Kentucky that performs abortion services, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville. The Bevin administration has attempted to shut down that clinic and has denied a license for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Louisville to also perform abortion services — with both of those clinics now fighting the administration in lawsuits.

Asked how he would handle abortion clinics as governor, Beshear said, “We would analyze any situation, and if a facility is operating legally, then it gets to continue to operate and you don’t get to step outside of the law to try to close it down.”

As for whether he believe that Bevin administration was in the wrong in those two lawsuits, Beshear said both cases would probably be resolved before the next governor takes office, though “I have some serious concerns with his actions that he’s taken in those.”

Beshear declined to say that Adkins’ views on abortion are out of step with Democratic primary voters in Kentucky, saying that people will ultimately base their vote on who they believe can create good jobs, provide affordable health care, support the public education system and “return decency and transparency and honesty to the office.”

This story has been updated with Horne’s statement.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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