An energized overflow crowd packed into the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort Wednesday for the Kentucky Right to Life Association's annual rally.
Ralliers spilled into the surrounding hallways as Gov. Matt Bevin, with a baby in his arms, ceremonially signed two bills limiting abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and requiring the presentation of ultrasound results to women seeking abortions - two Republican objectives reliably stymied by the formerly Democratic-led House in past sessions. Both measures included emergency clauses and were already in effect after Bevin signed them in January.
Kent Ostrander with the Family Foundation of Kentucky said last November's election was a watershed moment for abortion opponents, whom he argues make up the majority of the state.
"Everything's been bottled up by a more liberal speaker of the house. Now that he's gone, I think the floodgates are open and they'll be able to bring Kentucky to a place where the citizens want it to be on the sanctity of life issue," he said. "It was the folks who had been here for decades working legislators and others. The momentum finally broke free when the dam was broken and two major bills were passed."
Gov. Bevin used the Tuesday rally to praise the bipartisan support the bills received, while Louisville pastor Cecil Blye Jr. issued perhaps the boldest prediction.
“Roe v. Wade is going to be deceased,” he announced to applause.
One of the bills - the ultrasound rule - already generated a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the law violates constitutional principles, including the rights to privacy and bodily integrity. ACLU Advocacy Director Kate Miller told reporters last month Kentucky is entering tricky legal waters by enacting the restrictions.
"We've seen a lot of these measures defeated in other states when there has been an undue burden placed on women," she said. Miller has argued the bills represent "nothing more than political intrusion in the most personal, private decisions."
Their passage has also led more conflict between Gov. Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear over the former's pledge to defend the ultrasound measure.
Another Senate bill still working its way through the legislature would prohibit state and local funds from going to organizations that provide abortion services. Only one abortion provider, the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, remains open in the state.