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FRANKFORT, Ky. − With accusations flying on both sides, more than two dozen member of the Kentucky General Assembly's "pro-life caucus" held a news conference Thursday to "dispel misinformation" about a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot to establish the state constitution has no right to abortion.
Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg and chairwoman of the group, accused abortion rights supporters who oppose the amendment of a "massive misinformation campaign" by suggesting it would ban abortion.
"This amendment makes it clear that there is no right to abortion in the Kentucky Constitution," Tate said. "This will keep state judges in their lane of interpreting the law and not inventing new laws and new rights that the constitution doesn't speak of."
But Gov. Andy Beshear said the measure known as Constitutional Amendment 2, would have a broader impact by protecting the current state "trigger law" that bans all abortion in Kentucky except for medical emergencies with no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies.
"Constitutional Amendment 2," he said, "would protect and keep in place the most extreme law in the country when it comes to abortion services.
"What this extreme law means is that victims of rape or incest have no options," Beshear said. "In fact their rapist has more rights than they do about what goes on with their bodies."
And House Democratic Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, accused the speakers at the news conference − all Republicans − of lying about the amendment, including Tate's claim that some outside Kentucky are promoting abortion "up to 28 days after birth."
"Today’s press conference accusing the amendment’s opponents of falsehoods is both wrong and a deliberate attempt to hide their own wildly inaccurate statements," Jenkins said in a statement. "They know that there is no such thing as elective abortion up to birth – and up to 28 days after birth, according to Rep. Tate – but they lie about it anyway."
Tate did not explain her claim but Reuters news service reported recently a false claim had been widely circulated on social media that New York had enacted a law allowing abortion up to 28 days after birth.
"Contrary to claims online, the state of New York did not pass an abortion bill in September 2022 legalizing 'abortion' 28 days after the birth of a child, and Reuters found no evidence any such law exists," it said.
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Tate also said at Thursday's news conference that if voters reject the amendment it would open the floodgates to abortion providers in Kentucky.
"A no vote would make Kentucky an abortion mecca for this region," Tate said.
Prior to outlawing abortion in June, Kentucky had two abortion providers.
Tate and other lawmakers who spoke said it should be up to legislators, not judges, to permit abortion or determine whether laws should make exceptions for certain circumstances.
But under current laws enacted by the GOP-dominated General Assembly, including the "trigger law," abortion is illegal in Kentucky with exceptions only for medical emergencies and none for rape, incest or severe fetal anomalies. Those laws took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 struck down the federal right to abortion.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton and a staunch anti-abortion legislator, said he personally would not vote to change that.
"I don't support exemptions," he said. "God made each of us in his image ... this is a religious and faith question for me."
Beshear at his news conference noted The Courier Journal recently reported that the two youngest patients to receive abortion over the past two years while they were legal were each age 9.
"The only way a 9-year-old in Kentucky can become pregnant is through first degree rape − a violent crime," Beshear said.
The current Kentucky law making abortion illegal took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case making abortion a federal right, returning power to the states to regulate abortion.
Kentucky has become the latest battleground over whether individual state constitutions provide a right to abortion.
Voters in Kansas resoundingly rejected a similar amendment in August, in the first such vote after the Roe v. Wade decision.
Meanwhile, lawmakers at the news conference defended an ad recently released by Yes for Life, the coalition of anti-abortion groups in support of the amendment.
"Radical out-of-state activists want to spend YOUR tax dollars on late-term abortions even up to the moment of birth," a female narrator says in the 30-second ad, which features images of abortion rights protesters followed by an infant's feet and a young child blowing out birthday candles.
"This November, you can stop them by voting yes on amendment #2, which stops taxpayer-funded, late-term abortions," it adds.
It drew complaints from a member of Protect Kentucky Access, which opposes the amendment.
"It's medical misinformation at its worst," Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said last week. "Kentuckians, they are tired of being lied to, they are tired of having their health care restricted."
But Tate and Westerfield defended the ad, insisting that some out-of-state groups that have donated to opponents of the amendment are indeed pushing for abortions up to the point of delivery − though a Kentucky law enacted in 2017 bans abortions after 20 weeks, halfway through a pregnancy.
"That's exactly what they want," Westerfield said. "That's the kind of America they want."
And Addia Wuchner, chairwoman of the Yes for Life Alliance, released a statement Thursday disputing claims of opponents.
"Pro-abortion activists are trying to scare Kentuckians with their lies about Amendment #2," it said. "The amendment is not a ban on abortion, and current Kentucky law strongly protects the health and life of mothers."
Asked why the measure bans public funding of abortions when federal and Kentucky law already prohibit it, Tate said lawmakers want to ensure that doesn't happen in the future.
Planned Parenthood's Wieder, speaking Monday on Kentucky Tonight, a KET public affairs show, said such claims about late term abortions and public funding are false.
"It's not grounded in any medical reality or financial reality of this state," Wieder said.
Tate, asked what polling showed about the outcome of the ballot question on abortion, said she was "not privy to any of the polling information" but said it is important that people vote for it.
"The sense of urgency is Nov. 8," she said.
Kentucky's one-sentence amendment 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."
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at email@example.com or on Twitter at @d_yetter.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Lawmakers decry 'misinformation' on Kentucky abortion amendment vote