Kentucky is among the reddest of Republican red states. But Tamarra Wieder was quietly confident that Kentuckians would vote down GOP-backed constitutional amendments to ban abortion and to empower the legislature to call itself into special session.
“The people of Kentucky want checks and balances, and they are not with them [Republicans] on abortion,” said Wieder, Kentucky state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.
Under the state constitution, only the governor can call a special session. Amendment 1 would have extended that right to the General Assembly, too. Amendment 2 would have changed the state charter to say it didn’t include the right to an abortion. The Republican supermajority Senate and House passed both ballot proposals in the 2021 regular session. (Proposed amendments only require a 60% approval by both chambers of the legislature, and cannot be vetoed by the governor.)
Amendment 1 failed by 54-46 percent. Two came up short, 52-48. As expected, both amendments lost by the widest margins in heavily Democratic Jefferson (Louisville) and mostly Democratic Fayette (Lexington) counties.
Wieder’s group was part of a coalition that focused on defeating Amendment 2. “We’ve been organizing on the ground for about 10 years now – and not just us,” she said. “This campaign was the most coordinated in Kentucky history.”
She said organizations that joined Planned Parenthood to defend abortion rights ranged from the League of Women Voters to the Democratic Socialists of America. “It was the medical groups, too. [The Kentucky Section of] … the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists really came out front-and-center in a way they haven’t before. Over 350 providers signed our letter.”
Wieder said Planned Parenthood internal polling showed most Kentuckians opposed Amendment 2 even before the Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Kansas voters rejected an anti-abortion state constitutional amendment in August.
Wieder also pointed out that on election day, Republican State Rep. Joseph Fischer of Fort Thomas, an outspoken foe of abortion, failed to unseat state Supreme Court Justice Michelle Keller, a registered independent from Fort Mitchell. Fischer was the primary sponsor of Amendment 2 in the legislature, and he authored the 2019 “trigger law” that banned almost all abortions in Kentucky. The measure took effect after the Dobbs ruling.
While the two amendments and Fischer were defeated, Kentucky voters elected a raft of Republicans. Sen. Rand Paul and all five of the state’s GOP congressmen romped. The Republicans netted a Senate seat and five House seats, boosting their supermajorities to 31-7 in the upper chamber and 80-20 in the lower.
Besides urban Jefferson and Fayette, 20 other counties, many of them rural and Republican-leaning, voted “no” on Amendment 2. (Jefferson, Fayette and 32 more counties rejected Amendment 1.)
“You can like your legislators for a variety of things, but you can also tell them ‘no’ on their abortion agenda and on their obsession to strip power away from other branches of government,” Wieder said. “You cannot have extraordinary power and you also can’t keep attacking abortion access.”
Meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights want the state Supreme Court to overturn the trigger law. In a Tuesday hearing, attorneys for the groups asked the justices to suspend enforcement of the law while the court decides on its constitutionality.
Wieder also expects Republican lawmakers to try to further restrict access to abortion and birth control when the General Assembly meets in January. “So we can’t rest on our laurels,” she said. “But we can say that for the first time we have a mandate for abortion rights. This is the first time we’ve had a vote on abortion in the commonwealth, and a majority-52 percent-said ‘bans off our bodies.’”
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