LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The complexities of abortion-related politics in the post-Roe v. Wade era continue to put the squeeze on Republican Daniel Cameron, who appeared to redefine his position on Kentucky’s strict anti-abortion law for the second time in two weeks while campaigning for governor.
After revealing last week that he would sign legislation adding rape and incest exceptions to the state’s abortion ban, Cameron seemed to take a more hardline stance Wednesday. He did so while trying to reassure someone who claimed to be concerned that he was weakening his anti-abortion position. Cameron indicated that he would support such exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.”
“My point was that … we are in a fight with the courts right now,” Cameron said in an audio recording of the conversation during a campaign stop in London, Kentucky. “And so if the courts were to strike down and say that we needed to add (exceptions), of course I would sign that because I still want to protect life. But that would just be based on if our courts made that change; it wouldn’t be me, proactively.”
Democrats pounced on the comments, saying it reinforced Cameron’s longtime support for the sweeping abortion ban. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign has run TV ads linking Cameron to the ban and pointing to its consequences for young victims of rape or incest forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
“The reason he twists himself into knots on answers like this is because he knows the vast majority of Kentuckians find his view cruel and dangerous,” Beshear campaign spokesman Alex Floyd said.
After the audio recording surfaced Wednesday, Cameron’s campaign reiterated that he supports the existing abortion law while adding that if the legislature sent him a bill with exceptions, he would sign it. The campaign didn’t push back on the authenticity of the recording.
Beshear has gone on offense on an issue that anti-abortion Republicans long claimed as theirs in this largely conservative state. The Beshear-Cameron showdown is one of the nation’s most closely watched elections in 2023, a year before the nation decides control of the White House and Congress. Cameron is the state’s attorney general while Beshear is seeking a second term as governor in the GOP-leaning state.
Cameron’s comments Wednesday came after the unidentified person expressed concern that he had “wavered a little bit on protections for life.” Cameron replied that he supports the current law, which bans all abortions except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury.
During a GOP primary debate in March, Cameron expressed support for the abortion law as written. And as attorney general, his office has defended the near-total abortion ban in court.
Cameron’s comments at the campaign event Wednesday seemed to satisfy the person who raised the issue, based on the recording. How it plays out statewide is another question.
As the campaign heads into its final weeks, Cameron has appeared to try to mollify both abortion hardliners and moderate voters who support exceptions to the abortion law. It’s an indication that Cameron and his team are having “some difficulty figuring out what they want to do with this issue” in the broader general election campaign, Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Thursday.
“People don’t like uncertainty,” Cross said. “They want to know where a candidate stands. And most people favor rape and incest exceptions.”
Last year, Kentucky voters defeated a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, voters in several states have protected abortion rights via ballot measures.
A lingering question has been whether Cameron would push the GOP-dominated legislature to create abortion exceptions. With his comments Wednesday, “he’s making clear that he’s not,” Cross said.
Beshear has called the state’s abortion ban an extremist law that he says the “vast majority” of Kentuckians disagree with, pointing to the lack of exceptions for rape and incest.
Amid the fallout from the Wednesday recording, Cameron’s campaign tried to shift the focus to Beshear’s stance as an abortion-rights supporter, saying: “Voters should be given more clarity on what week Andy Beshear would protect the unborn?”
Beshear’s campaign responded Thursday that the governor “has always supported reasonable restrictions, especially on late-term procedures.”
Last year, Beshear vetoed a bill that included a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Beshear noted at the time that the measure lacked exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. His veto was overridden by lawmakers. Once Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, the state’s so-called trigger law — passed in 2019 — took effect to ban nearly all abortions in Kentucky.
A bill to allow rape and incest exceptions made no headway in Kentucky’s legislature this year. The ongoing debate points to Cameron’s political challenges amid the new dynamics of abortion policymaking.
“It’s incredibly difficult to meet the litmus test of being pro-life enough to win the kind of endorsements that you need to win as a Republican primary candidate, and then having a position that is palatable enough to a greater swath of the electorate,” GOP political consultant T.J. Litafik said Thursday.