Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin unleashed an abortion-related attack Thursday that took aim not only at his Democratic challenger but also at a federal judge who struck down a state abortion law.
The socially conservative Republican incumbent pushed abortion to the forefront of his reelection campaign during a press conference outside the Governor's Mansion. The focus on the key social issue came two days before Bevin squares off against his Democratic opponent, Andy Beshear, at the political stump speaking Saturday at the Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky. The event looms as a crucial campaign test for both.
Bevin accused the federal judge of having an attitude of "I know better" in striking down the law, which deals with transfer agreements between an abortion clinic and a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies. The state is appealing.
Bevin lambasted Beshear for taking donations that he said came from the owner of Kentucky's only abortion clinic, who hosted a Wednesday night campaign fundraiser in Louisville. Bevin said another clinic doctor also attended. The governor also criticized Beshear, the state's attorney general, for not defending the state in lawsuits challenging several abortion laws passed by abortion foes in the legislature.
"This is blood money, straight up," the governor said. "There's no other term for it. ... They (the clinic officials) are using monies that they have earned from killing Kentuckians to fund a guy who's job it is to defend the laws of this state but refuses to do so. That is unacceptable."
To reinforce his point, Bevin stood next to an invitation to the Beshear fundraiser, blown up on a poster board.
Beshear's campaign manager, Eric Hyers, responded that the Beshear fundraiser was attended by a number of Republicans and co-hosted by a group called "Republicans for Beshear."
"I find it telling how Matt Bevin would blur out every other name, including 'Republicans for Beshear,' and highlight one individual," he said.
Hyers described the governor's performance Thursday as "erratic," adding: "Reasonable and good people can disagree on choice — his outlandish language is dangerous and unacceptable."
While Bevin adamantly opposes abortion, Beshear supports the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. That ruling allowed reasonable restrictions on the procedure and Beshear supports those restrictions, especially related to late-term abortion procedures, his campaign has said.
Kentucky is one of several states to pass laws intended to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
In response to Bevin's attacks on the AG's office, Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown said: "The attorney general's duty is to the Constitution. Every bill that has been challenged, that we have opined was unconstitutional has been found so by a federal court."
Meanwhile, Bevin criticized the federal judge who last year struck down the law requiring abortion clinics to have written agreements with a hospital and ambulance service in case of medical emergencies.
"We had a federal judge decide that you know what, that may be the law, but I think I know better so I'm just going to pretend it doesn't apply," the governor told reporters. "Unbelievable."
U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers ruled the two-decade-old law violates constitutionally protected due process rights.
Bevin's criticism of the federal judge was reminiscent of his attacks of Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd for some of his rulings that went against the governor and the GOP-led legislature in recent years. Bevin went on talk radio and called Shepherd an "incompetent hack."
The transfer agreement law had put the state's last abortion clinic at risk of closing when Bevin's administration cited it in a licensing fight with the Louisville facility — EMW Women's Surgical Center. The case revolved around a licensing fight that began when Bevin's administration claimed the clinic lacked proper transfer agreements and took steps to shut it down.
Bevin predicted the state will win its appeal and then apply the "transfer agreement" standards.
"If that results in no abortion clinics, fantastic," he said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke accused Bevin of using "incendiary rhetoric to attack abortion providers." She called it a "move straight from the national anti-abortion playbook for politicians looking to push abortion care totally out of the reach of those that need it." ACLU attorneys are representing the EMW clinic in several lawsuits challenging abortion laws in Kentucky.