Lawmakers vote to give AG power to regulate abortion clinics

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's anti-abortion attorney general would be given new power to regulate abortion clinics under a bill that won final passage Saturday from the Republican-dominated legislature.

The Senate voted 30-5 to send the measure to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who vetoed similar legislation in 2020. Last year's bill passed shortly before the session ended, preventing lawmakers from overriding the veto. Now, just days into their 30-day session, lawmakers would have plenty of time to take up an override of this year's bill.

The abortion-related proposal became the first bill to clear the legislature during this year's pandemic-dominated session. In the opening week of the session, GOP lawmakers expedited work on bills dealing with abortion and limiting the governor's emergency powers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The abortion proposal that passed Saturday would give Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron the power to seek civil and criminal penalties for any violation of Kentucky’s abortion laws.

Cameron tweeted Saturday that he was grateful for lawmakers giving his office “clear legal authority to act" if an abortion law is violated.

In recent years, Kentucky lawmakers have moved aggressively to put restrictions and conditions on abortion since Republicans assumed total control of the General Assembly.

Democratic Sen. Karen Berg criticized lawmakers for making the abortion measure a priority at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is raging.

“This is what we are spending our time, our energy and our taxpayers' money on," she said Saturday. “I think it is a great disservice to the people of this commonwealth."

The attorney general's new powers would be concurrent with state Cabinet for Health and Family Services' authority to enforce abortion laws and seek penalties for violations, said Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield.

Abortion-rights advocates called the bill a shift in power to the anti-abortion attorney general. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky said in a release that Cameron “has no medical background and has showed he'll use the powers of his office to push abortion care out of reach" for Kentuckians.

Another bill backed by abortion opponents that won final passage Saturday would require doctors to give life-saving measures to any infant “born alive” during a “failed abortion” or premature birth.

The measure also was included in the 2020 legislation vetoed by Beshear. The governor noted in his veto message that existing law already protects the life of infants.