Kentucky voters control future of abortion law

A billboard urging a “yes” vote on amendment #2 is visible to drivers on I-65 northbound near Crittenden Drive. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky is urging voters to support the abortion-related amendment listed at the end of the ballot. (Photo Special to The Record)

In early November, Kentucky’s voters will hold the future of the state’s abortion laws in their hands.

Amendment #2, which is listed at the end of the ballot, states there’s no right to abortion in Kentucky’s constitution. If voters agree, abortion laws — ones that prohibit the procedure or ones that permit it — can be decided by state lawmakers in the future.

If not, a decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court could decide the future.

The court is expected to hear challenges to two abortion-related laws Nov. 15: The state’s so-called “trigger law,” which bans abortions in Kentucky (and went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned), and Kentucky’s “heartbeat law,” which bans abortion after a heartbeat is detected. Both laws include exceptions for the life and health of the mother.

Largely at issue is the constitutionality of these laws. If voters approve amendment #2, the question of constitutionality becomes moot, said Jason Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

The conference, which represents the state’s bishops on matters of public policy, is urging Catholics to exercise their right to vote.

The amendment “explicitly rules out constitutional challenges to laws dealing with abortion,” Hall said. “It prevents the courts from saying there is a right to abortion in the state constitution. And there’s no constitutionally required funding for abortion.

“This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a direct pro-life statement,” he said. “We talk often about being pro-life voters, but that’s often filtered through candidates. This is a direct opportunity to take a pro-life stand at the ballot box.

“If we lose this, and if the (state) Supreme Court holds there is a right to abortion in the state constitution, it will be a huge setback,” said Hall.

Such an outcome means abortion laws “would be taken out of the legislative process and put in the hands of elected judges,” he said.

Hall pointed out that amendment #2 is not a cure-all for pro-life advocates, but it’s an important step.

“This doesn’t even ban abortion. This amendment is about one thing and a very important thing: to make sure we don’t have a Supreme Court decision declare there’s a right to abortion.

“Nothing in this amendment would prevent the legislature from creating any exceptions they want or permitting abortion, depending on what a future General Assembly might choose to do.”

The Catholic Church in the United States has long encouraged Catholics to be active in the public square. The perennial document from the U.S. bishops called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” tells Catholics: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”

It goes on to explain, “The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.

“As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, ‘It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. … As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life.’ ”

Early voting in Kentucky is Nov. 3-5. The general election is Nov. 8.

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