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Campaign advocate for abortion rights makes plea for Kentucky lawmakers to relax abortion ban

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A young woman who dominated the discussion about abortion during Kentucky's campaign last year stepped forward again Tuesday to call on lawmakers to relax the state's near-total abortion ban.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear endorses legislation that would add exceptions to the state's near-total abortion ban. Beshear spoke at an event on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, along with the bill's lead sponsor, state Sen. David Yates, and abortion- rights advocate Hadley Duvall in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A young woman who dominated the discussion about abortion during Kentucky's campaign last year stepped forward again Tuesday to call on lawmakers to relax the state's near-total abortion ban.

Months after revealing the trauma of being raped and impregnated in a powerful campaign ad, Hadley Duvall went to the statehouse to endorse a bill that would add exceptions to the anti-abortion law. The measure would allow abortions when pregnancies are caused by rape or incest, or when pregnancies are deemed nonviable or medical emergencies threaten the mother.

She teamed with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and the bill's lead sponsor to try to generate momentum, but its fate ultimately will be decided by Republican supermajorities in the legislature. The prospects for carving out more exceptions appear to be uncertain as GOP lawmakers wrangle with the issue.

Duvall, now a college senior in her early 20s, became pregnant as a seventh grader but ultimately miscarried. Her stepfather was convicted of rape. She recounted those traumatic events in a Beshear campaign ad attacking his Republican challenger's longstanding support for the abortion ban. The commercial put the GOP candidate, then-Attorney General Daniel Cameron, on the defensive for weeks until the November election, which Beshear won in convincing fashion.

The Associated Press does not normally identify sexual assault victims, but Duvall chose to be identified and has spoken out publicly about what she experienced and its connection to the debate over abortion.

Turning her attention to winning over the legislature on Tuesday, Duvall noted that under current Kentucky law she would have had to carry her pregnancy to term.

“There are women and girls across Kentucky right now who are dealing with the same trauma that I went through," she said. "Those women and girls need their choices. This bill will provide those.”

The debate about loosening Kentucky's abortion ban comes after Republicans spent years adding restrictions to the procedure. Once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a state trigger law passed years before took effect. It bans abortions in Kentucky except when carried out to save the life of the mother.

Since this year's legislative session convened last week, prominent Republicans have talked about how it's a deeply personal issue for their colleagues. House Speaker David Osborne recently referred to abortion as a “hotly debated issue" with “lots of strong opinions” among GOP members.

Democratic state Sen. David Yates, the lead sponsor of the new exceptions bill, denounced Kentucky's abortion law as among the nation's most restrictive. His legislation would provide "a very small step in the right direction for a very limited number of victims that we can help,” he said Tuesday.

Kentucky is one of 14 states currently enforcing a ban on abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Two more have similar bans on hold in court. And two others have bans that kick in when cardiac activity can be detected –- at about six weeks gestational age and before women often realize they are pregnant.

Several of the laws were adopted when the U.S. Supreme Court still found a nationwide right to abortion under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and took effect only after that precedent was overturned with the new ruling in 2022.

The laws in states with the deepest restrictions are divided over the exceptions. Most allow abortion when the woman’s life is in immediate danger, though a recent ruling said that Texas does not have to do so. Some have them for pregnancies caused by rape or incest and some do not. A few states allow abortion in the case of rape but not incest. There are also contrasting policies over whether abortions are allowed when there is a fatal fetal anomaly.

In Kentucky, abortion access remained virtually shut off after the state’s Supreme Court refused to halt the ban last year. The justices, however, ruled on narrow legal issues and left unanswered larger constitutional questions about whether access to abortion should be legal. In 2022, Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion.

Last month, a woman in Kentucky sued demanding the right to an abortion. But her attorneys later withdrew the lawsuit after the plaintiff learned her embryo no longer had cardiac activity.

Beshear, an abortion-rights supporter, said Tuesday he would immediately sign the new exceptions bill if it reaches his desk. The rape and incest exceptions would ensure that “those that have been harmed and violated in the worst of ways have options,” the governor said.

In comments echoing her hard-hitting message for Cameron last year, Duvall called on lawmakers to think about the “real world implications” of the current abortion ban.

“I’m here with a clear message to say that unless you’ve been in this position you have no idea what any woman or girl is currently going through,” she said Tuesday. "So there should be options. The legislators shouldn’t feel entitled to force victims who have stories like mine to carry a baby of their rapist.”


Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press