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Candidates wrangle over abortion policy in Kentucky gubernatorial debate

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron accused each other of taking extreme stands on abortion policy Monday night as they wrangled over an issue that’s become a flashpoint in their hotly contested campaign for governor in Kentucky.

During an hourlong debate at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky, the rivals fielded questions over education, taxes, public safety and the monthlong strike by auto workers, which has spread to Ford’s highly profitable Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville.

The candidates tried to one-up the other in their support for public education. Some of their sharpest exchanges during the televised debate, however, came when asked to lay out their stands on abortion.

Their remarks, which took place about three weeks before the Nov. 7 election, came against the backdrop of Kentucky’s current abortion law, which bans the procedure except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury.

Beshear said that his challenger celebrated the abortion ban’s passage and pointed to Cameron’s long-running support for the law as written, without exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

“My opponent’s position would give a rapist more rights than their victim,” Beshear said. “It is wrong. We need to change this law. We need to make sure that those individuals have that option.”

Once Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state’s trigger law — passed in 2019 — took effect to ban nearly all abortions.

Cameron reiterated Monday night that he would sign a bill adding abortion exceptions if given the chance, a position he revealed during a radio interview last month.

Cameron went on the attack by pointing to Beshear’s opposition to abortion restrictions passed by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. As attorney general, Beshear refused to defend a law imposing a 20-week ban on abortion, and later as governor he vetoed a 15-week ban, Cameron said.

“That is Andy Beshear’s record on the issue of life,” Cameron said. “It’s one of failure for the unborn.”

Beshear responded that he has consistently supported “reasonable restrictions,” especially on late-term abortions. Beshear also noted that the 15-week ban lacked exceptions for rape and incest.

Abortion polices have been at the forefront of the campaign. Beshear’s campaign released a TV ad last month featuring a Kentucky woman who revealed her own childhood trauma while calling for rape and incest exceptions. The woman, now in her early 20s, talked about having been raped by her stepfather when she was 12 years old. She became pregnant as a seventh grader but eventually miscarried.

Meanwhile, the candidates took turns touting their plans to improve public education.

Cameron accused the governor of mischaracterizing his plan to help students overcome learning loss when schools were closed during the pandemic.

“We need a governor that is going to lean into this issue to fight for our kids and make sure that they have the best education system here possible in Kentucky,” Cameron said.

Beshear highlighted his own plan calling for an 11% pay raise for teachers and all public school personnel, including bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria staff. He said he’s supported educators “every step of the way” to raise their pay and protect their pensions as governor and previously as attorney general.

“If we want to catch our kids up in math, you have to have a math teacher,” the governor said. “And it’s also time for universal pre-K for every four-year-old in Kentucky.”

Beshear criticized Cameron for supporting a Republican-backed measure to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition. The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the measure last year. The governor and other opponents of the bill said the program would have diverted money from public schools. Supporters said the measure offered opportunities for parents who want new schooling options for their children but are unable to afford them.

“He (Cameron) supports a voucher program that would take tens of millions of dollars out of our public school system,” Beshear said. “Out of the paychecks of our educators, out of the resources that they need, and again send them to fancy private schools.”

Cameron has proposed raising the statewide base starting pay for new teachers, saying it would have a ripple effect by lifting pay for other teachers. Cameron’s plan also would develop an optional, 16-week tutoring program for math and reading instruction.

“We need leadership that’s going to catch our kids up,” Cameron said.

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