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Kentucky governor to speak out against strict abortion ban in neighboring Tennessee

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s upcoming trip to neighboring Tennessee to speak out against that state’s sweeping abortion ban is the latest sign that the Democrat known for defeating Donald Trump-backed rivals is looking to improve his party’s prospects in GOP territory and build up his own name recognition.

Beshear — who campaigned against his state’s near-total abortion ban in winning reelection last year — will speak next month at an event called “Championing Reproductive Freedom.” He will be joined by Hadley Duvall, a college student featured in a TV ad that linked Beshear’s GOP challenger last year to Kentucky’s strict abortion law, which bans abortions except when carried out to save the mother’s life.

Beshear’s reelection — in a state that otherwise has trended toward the GOP — burnished his image as a rising national Democratic star. The governor said Monday that abortion looms as a powerful issue for his party, provided “it is grounded in a rejection of extremism.”

“Like Kentucky, Tennessee has some of the most extreme laws in the country, where victims of rape and incest don’t have the necessary options,” Beshear said in a phone interview. “I think that the voters in Tennessee, just like in Kentucky, have enough basic empathy to believe that goes way too far.”

Tennessee bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy. The law includes narrow exceptions to save the mother’s life, but many advocates and medical officials have warned ever since the ban went into effect in 2022 that the language is vague and confusing on what’s legally allowed. Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who signed the ban, has defended it and argued it’s working as intended.

Out of 14 states that ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, six have exceptions in cases of rape and five have them for incest.

Since his reelection, Beshear has received stacks of invitations to speak at Democratic events around the country but has limited his political trips while focusing on his job. Beshear has pledged to serve his entire second term, which ends in late 2027. He defeated a Trump-backed Republican incumbent to win the governorship in 2019. Last year, he defeated another Trump-endorsed candidate.

In March, Beshear spoke to Montana Democrats at a state party dinner there, where he made a pitch for the reelection of Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Tester’s race is one of several in November that will determine which party controls the Senate.

At the start of 2024, Beshear formed a federal political action committee to support candidates across the country, with a focus on helping elect more Democrats in swing states and Republican strongholds.

“A lot of people help out candidates that are already going to win,” Beshear said Monday. “We’re not interested in just running up the score. We’re interested in middle-of-the-road public servants that wake up every morning thinking about jobs, public education, health care, infrastructure and public safety.”

Beshear downplays talk that he might be laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2028.

“I’m supporting President Biden here in 2024 and that’s the next election,” he said, adding that “2028 is a long way away” and that his focus is to “push Kentucky forward as much as I can.”

“In the future, I’ll look at any opportunity the same way I looked at running for governor,” he added. “If I believe that I can bring people together, lessen the noise, push away the divide and truly move either a country or families forward, then it’s something I consider.”

At the June 21 event in Tennessee, Beshear will share the stage with Duvall, who revealed her childhood trauma in a Beshear campaign ad that went viral last year. Duvall, now in her early 20s, talked about having been raped by her stepfather when she was 12 years old. Duvall became pregnant as a seventh grader but miscarried. The stepfather was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison.

Duvall stepped forward again this year to call on Kentucky’s GOP-dominated legislature to relax the state’s abortion ban. But legislation to allow abortions when pregnancies are caused by rape or incest, or when pregnancies are deemed nonviable, made no headway in the legislative session that ended last month.

Duvall’s story underscores the real-world implications of abortion bans, Beshear said Monday.

“When they hear stories like Hadley’s, someone who has gone through the worst of the worst, they get out of being pro-this or pro-that, are willing to push back against the extremism and have the basic empathy to believe these victims and survivors deserve options,” the governor said.

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Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville contributed to this report.

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press

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