AP NEWS

Kentucky governor, AG spar over defense of abortion law

January 25, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The rancor between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear intensified Wednesday, as they exchanged harsh words over the defense of a new Kentucky law requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion.

In a Facebook video sparking the latest verbal slugfest, Bevin accused Beshear of failing to adequately defend the law against a legal challenge, calling the AG’s action’s “absolutely unconscionable” and “dishonorable.”

Beshear, a Democrat, fired back that the Republican governor was relying on “alternative facts.” He said the governor should confront him face-to-face and not “hide behind Facebook” when questioning his actions.

The bickering comes amid a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union aimed at blocking the ultrasound abortion law. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the state’s only abortion provider, claiming the law violates privacy and First Amendment rights.

The measure also requires that abortion providers display and describe ultrasound images to pregnant women, even if the women avert their eyes, which is permissible. It sped through the Republican-controlled legislature this month and went into effect after Bevin signed it into law.

Bevin’s social media attack against his chief rival was spurred by a court filing in the case. In it, the attorney general’s office took no position on an ACLU motion asking a federal judge to temporarily block the law’s enforcement while the case is decided, said Steve Pitt, Bevin’s chief attorney.

“That is absolutely unconscionable,” the governor said in his Facebook video. “It’s dishonorable to run for a position as the attorney general, as the chief law enforcer for the state, and then not do your job.”

Beshear responded that Bevin’s Facebook message was based on “alternative facts.”

“His claims are false and they show once again that he clearly doesn’t understand or respect the law or the Constitution,” Beshear said.

The attorney general said his office has taken “the most aggressive action possible” in fighting back against the ACLU suit.

Beshear is among three defendants in the case, along with state Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson and Michael Rodman with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. The attorney general’s office has filed motions asking the judge to dismiss Beshear and Rodman as defendants. Beshear’s office is not representing Glisson.

“I would suggest in the future that if the governor has any questions on the hard work of my office that he walk across the hallway and ask to meet with me, and not hide behind Facebook,” said Beshear, whose office is a short walk from the governor’s office at the state Capitol.

Pitt, one of Glisson’s attorneys in the case, said the AG’s office has failed to make any substantive arguments in defense of the law.

“They’ve taken the least aggressive step here, moved to dismiss on procedural grounds just to get themselves out of the case and have made no effort to argue the merits of the case or defend the statute,” Pitt said in a phone interview.

U.S. District Judge David Hale has set a hearing for Feb. 16, when he’ll hear arguments on whether he should order a temporary halt to the law.

Beshear has said he would not defend another abortion law if it gets challenged in court. That law prohibits abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in danger. Beshear said recently his office’s review determined the law is “clearly unconstitutional.”

The ACLU has said it’s still reviewing the 20-week abortion ban. Beshear’s refusal to defend the law, also passed in the first week of this year’s legislative session, has drawn harsh criticism from Bevin and top Republican legislators.

Lawmakers supporting the 20-week ban created a “litigation fund” for the state to use to defend the law if necessary.

Abortion is the latest flashpoint in the feud between Bevin and Beshear, both in their first terms.

Beshear has sued the governor multiple times, seeking to block Bevin’s efforts to enact mid-year budget cuts on public colleges and universities and to abolish and replace the boards at the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Retirement Systems.