Lawmaker makes last-minute move to save abortion exception bill

Published 2:44 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

FRANKFORT – By all appearances, several bills adding limited abortion exceptions to Kentucky’s near-ban seemed to be dead this session.

But Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, is throwing a last-minute Hail Mary to force a vote.

Yates filed an abortion exception bill – Senate Bill 99 – the second week of session. Three months later, it has not been assigned to a committee, which Yates said is against the rule requiring committees to report a bill “in a reasonable time.”

SB99 would add exceptions for rape and incest up to the point of viability. It would also allow women to have abortions in cases of nonviable pregnancies, fetal abnormalities or if their health or life is threatened.

Current Kentucky law allows an exception for the life of the mother, but Yates notes that doctors have testified that it’s so ambiguously worded that they are unable to use it.

Thursday, Yates announced he would use a lesser known legislative rule called a discharge petition to try to bring the bill back to life.

Discharge petitions can allow legislators to skip the entire committee process and bring a bill directly to the floor for its first of three readings.

To work, Yates would have to bring his discharge petition to the Rules Committee, which will decide whether there was “unreasonable delay” in assigning the bill to a committee.

If Senate President Robert Stivers rules that it was not unreasonable and no rule was broken, the entire Senate would hold a vote on whether they agree with him or if they want to grant Yates’ discharge petition.

Stivers has signaled that he would not support this maneuver, calling it a purely political move.

If a majority vote in Yates’ favor, SB99 would get its first reading. Although bills need three readings on separate days, and there are only two days remaining, Senate rules allow the legislature to skip the second and third readings if a majority agrees.

Yates said he isn’t naive enough to believe that will happen in this case, but noted that the majority will make such a move to pass bills they care about.

His goal is to allow victims and survivors to be heard and to force a vote.

“There should be an open, honest discussion and we should come up with solutions for everybody because Kentuckians deserve to know where your elected official stands on this issue,” Yates said.

While lawmakers face political consequences in their districts for votes on highly fraught issues like abortion, Yates said it’s important enough to deserve a discussion. He’s not the only one getting phone calls from victims, he said, and there is private support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Yates filed 27 bills this session; 26 were assigned a committee.

“It’s plain,” he said. “Anyone can see that this bill has been deliberately shelved. And that’s why we have this petition.”

Hadley Duvall appeared next to Yates at the press conference. Duvall first appeared in a Beshear campaign ad to tell her story of getting pregnant at 12 after being raped by her stepfather.

She said if she were able to testify, she would have talked about how it felt to take a pregnancy test after school, by herself, wondering what it meant for her future.

“There are other little girls across Kentucky right now in similar situations, and they need options,” Duvall said. “I’m sure if there had been a hearing and a vote, there would have been testimony from many other Kentuckians as well, many who reach out to me every single day.”

Louisville Republican Ken Fleming filed a separate, more limited abortion exceptions bill midway through the session. Yates said he had hoped it would move and he could add amendments to it during the process, but the bill did not go anywhere.

He also hoped that if he waited for the majority to get through all their priority bills, they could eventually get around to abortion exceptions. But they didn’t, so he said he had no other choice.

Yates doesn’t think a vote to grant his discharge petition is necessarily a vote for the bill; he thinks it’s fairly clear there was unreasonable delay.

Gov. Andy Beshear seemed to disagree. He told reporters at his weekly press conference that if someone voted to bring the discharge petition to the floor, that would be an expression of support for rape and incest exceptions, and if they didn’t, it would be a statement of opposition.

Yates said he would continue to push for this in the interim and encouraged the general public to call their representatives if they want abortion exceptions.

Duvall said she was “heartbroken for the survivors right now who are experiencing the unimaginable.”

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, about 3,000 children who were the product of rape have been born. Yates said when some abortion opponents hear about some of the cases, they say they aren’t true.

“These are real cases,” Yates said. “These are real people. It’s wrong.”

– Follow regional reporter Sarah Michels on Twitter @sarah_michels13 or visit