Democratic senator files bill asking for rape, incest exceptions in Kentucky’s abortion ban

By: - January 9, 2024 12:25 pm

Calling Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban dangerous and cruel, Sen. David Yates, center, unveils a bill to add exceptions for rape and incest. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, left, and Hadley Duvall joined him Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

FRANKFORT — Calling Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban “dangerous” and “cruel,” Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, introduced a bill Tuesday to add exceptions for rape and incest. 

The bill will at least make it to a committee, the president of the Republican-controlled and staunchly anti-abortion Senate told Renee Shaw on Kentucky Tonight. Senate President Robert Stivers said on KET Monday night that the bill “will be assigned to a committee.” 

In 2023, a Republican-backed bill aiming to add the same exceptions got stuck in the Committee on Committees and did not advance. Kentucky has exceptions currently for the life of the mother. 

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This bill is named after Hadley Duvall, who appeared in campaign ads for Gov. Andy Beshear speaking about being raped by her stepfather and getting pregnant at 12 years old. 

“Hadley’s Law” would rely on the “good faith belief of the physician” that a pregnancy in question is the result of rape or incest, according to draft language. 

Beshear, speaking in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday alongside Yates and Duvall, said he would sign the bill should it reach his desk. 

“We know that there will be trauma where there is an act of incest or rape,” Stivers said on KET. “That’s tough. That’s where it gets (to be a) hard decision.” 

He then said any perpetrators should be “swiftly” and “harshly” punished and called for wrap-around services for survivors. 

“There is a lot of discussion,” Stivers said. “I do not know what the outcome will be.” 

Tamarra Wieder, state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Kentucky, said abortion exceptions for rape and incest do not make a huge difference in access.

“As a policy, they don’t work,” she told the Lantern. That’s because, she explained, there are already mechanisms in place to penalize providers with a Class D felony for “performing a prohibited abortion.”

And, religiously-affiliated medical providers aren’t likely to grant the procedure anyway under an exceptions clause.

Yates “got it right,” Wieder said, when it comes to doctors only needing to have “good faith” that the unwanted pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

If his bill becomes law, she said, “victims in Kentucky will not have to go through a level of the courts to prove that their rape happened.”

“My heart goes out to victims of rape and incest,” Wieder said. “Hadley is incredibly brave. And we need change in Kentucky and we need change now. Unfortunately, we need a repeal of the statutes that are criminalizing the providers. That is what we need to be able to bring back care.”

Yates, who said he hopes for bipartisan support on the legislation, said his bill won’t “fix” all the problems he sees in the state’s laws, but “this is a very small step in the right direction for a very limited number of victims that we can help.”  

“We limited it in this particular bill,” he said, “because that’s what we think may pass.” 

Duvall said she hopes legislators from both political parties will support the exceptions. 

“Unless you’ve been in this position,” she said, “you have no idea what any woman or girl is currently going through. Legislators shouldn’t feel entitled to force victims who have stories like mine to carry a baby with a rapist.” 

Duvall said she hopes her story will educate people for whom “it’s hard to think that those things (rape and incest) do happen behind closed doors.”  

“I could have been anybody’s daughter,” Duvall said. “I could have been anybody’s sister. Anybody’s niece or granddaughter. And at any point, it could be theirs.” 

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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.

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