An amendment in Kentucky that would have changed the state’s constitution to halt the right to an abortion was defeated at the ballot box Tuesday, making Kentucky the second deep-red state to reject such an effort, following Kansas.
“This is a historic win for the people of Kentucky,” Rachel Sweet, campaign manager for Protect Kentucky Access, said in a statement released just after midnight Tuesday. “Not only does it represent a win against government overreach and government interference in the people of Kentucky’s personal medical decisions, it represents the first time so many different organizations have come together with such an intense single-minded purpose to defeat a threat of this magnitude.”
The Associated Press called the race Wednesday morning after about 86% of votes had been counted, with about 53% of voters against it and about 47% for it.
The vote followed a high-stakes campaign where abortion-rights supporters spent more than $5 million to try to defeat Constitutional Amendment 2 and abortion opponents spent nearly $1 million for its passage.
Abortion has been outlawed in Kentucky, except for medical emergencies, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June.
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Kentucky’s GOP-controlled General Assembly, which put the constitutional amendment on the ballot, and Yes for Life which campaigned for it, had consistently predicted a win, arguing Kentucky is one of the most “pro-life” states in the country. The ballot measure was among more than a dozen bills approved by Kentucky lawmakers in recent years to restrict or ban abortion.
But opponents, led by Protect Kentucky Access, argued the measure was too extreme and would allow current laws to remain in place that ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Abortion is allowed in Kentucky only to save the life of or prevent a disabling injury to a pregnant patient.
Abortion-rights supporters in Kentucky celebrate win
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and Planned Parenthood, partners in Protect Kentucky Access, released statements declaring victory in the effort to defeat Constitutional Amendment 2.
“To every Kentuckian who fought for reproductive freedom this election cycle, this win is for you,” said Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.
“The people of Kentucky have spoken, and their answer is no – no to extremist politicians banning abortion and making private medical decisions on their behalf,” the ACLU said in a statement.
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Yes for Life, the campaign organized in support of the amendment, did not immediately comment on the outcome.
But David O’Bryan, 73, an amendment supporter who was waiting on election results at Kentucky Right to Life headquarters in Louisville on Tuesday, said he was disappointed.
“I’m disappointed in Kentucky,” O’Bryan said. “People misunderstood the amendment, what it means to Kentucky and what it means for Right to Life and pro life issues.”
Kentucky rejecting Amendment 2 doesn’t make abortion access easier
Kentucky’s vote followed the defeat in August of a similar measure in Kansas to eliminate abortion rights from that state’s constitution, a vote that reverberated nationwide coming just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the federal right to abortion.
In Kansas, the ballot measure was rejected by about 18 percentage points. Sweet, the manager of Kentucky’s campaign against the amendment, also managed the opponents’ campaign in Kansas.
In Kentucky, the vote appeared closer, with the win about 6 percentage points. And the vote divided largely along urban and rural lines, with votes against the amendment concentrated in urban areas while in most other counties a majority favored it. In Jefferson County, 71% of voters, and in Fayette, 73% of voters, voted against the measure.
Passage of the measure would have guaranteed there is no state right to abortion in Kentucky’s constitution and would put an end to legal challenges seeking to overturn state laws that restrict or ban abortion.
Defeat of the amendment means that reproductive rights supporters may still seek to have abortion declared a state right through legal challenges to existing laws.
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The ballot measure took on new importance in Kentucky when the Supreme Court on June 24 struck down Roe v. Wade. Kentucky was among about a dozen states with “trigger laws” to ban abortion in the event of such a ruling.
And it is one of multiple states where abortion rights supporters have gone to state courts, seeking to establish abortion as a right under state constitutions. The state’s two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the latter represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit seeking to have abortion declared a state right. Abortion, except for a medical emergency, remains banned while the case is pending.
Abortion services, except in the event of medical emergency, have not been available since the state’s two abortion providers, both in Louisville, were forced to suspend those services.
Protect Kentucky Access included abortion rights supporters and several social justice groups. Yes for Life members included Kentucky Right to Life, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Kentucky Amendment 2 states: “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.”
After the federal right to abortion ended, advocates took a legal challenge to state court in Kentucky, seeking to establish it as a state right.
Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry in July ruled in favor of abortion rights, issuing a temporary injunction against Kentucky’s trigger law and another banning abortion after six weeks.
But Attorney General Daniel Cameron, an anti-abortion Republican, appealed that order, and it was suspended while the state Supreme Court considers the case. Meanwhile, no abortions have been available in the state, except for medical emergencies.
The Supreme Court has set Nov. 15 for a hearing in the case.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at email@example.com or on Twitter at @d_yetter. Reporters Caleb Stultz and Connor Giffin contributed to this story.