Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Pro-Life Republicans are playing defense after Gov. Andy Beshear aired a heartbreaking TV ad featuring a young girl who was raped by her stepfather at the age of 12. The ad, still discussed weeks after it was first released, claims that Daniel Cameron would have forced her to carry the child to term if she didn’t miscarry. Hadley Duvall puts a face on a crime, and the point is landing with Louisville voters that I talked with earlier in the week.

The agonizing ad of the young traumatized Hadley Duvall caught the pro-life community flat-footed after last year’s Dobbs decision turned abortion policy back to the states. Kentucky has no sexual assault exceptions for abortion, a point that Gov. Andy Beshear made in several veto messages. He’s now making it a significant campaign issue.

Personalizing hard cases for abortion may appear a genius political move for the pro-abortion Beshear, but it doesn’t mean pro-lifers, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron, are without a response. Pro-life voters need to make clear that they should care deeply about women who’ve been sexually assaulted. We all should. However, if a TV ad of abortion survivor turned pro-life activist Gianna Jessen airs alongside Beshear’s “hard cases” ad, the conversation changes.

Either way you look at it, abortion is ugly. And so is rape. There can be no room for indifference here. Compassion is required for both situations. Which leads us to this question: How many of us are willing to hold the hand of a woman who’s been sexually assaulted or left alone to care for the baby on her own? And how many would hold the baby who survived an abortion?

Beshear believes abortion should be an option not just to end the life of a child conceived from rape, but also for babies who are full term, even if they’ve survived an attempted abortion and are now breathing outside of the womb. It’s understandable to debate the merits of exceptions to Kentucky’s abortion law, but Andy Beshear’s defense of barbaric abortions when a child can feel pain, have a heartbeat, and survive outside the womb is beyond what most Kentuckians believe to be reasonable restrictions on abortion.

Though rare, babies do survive late-term abortion. According to the Lozier Institute, only a few states collect such data. In 2020 and 2021, 35 children were born alive during attempted abortions in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. This is relevant to the conversation because in 2020, Beshear vetoed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which protected children who survive an abortion attempt. The bill passed in 2021 without Beshear’s signature.

Restoring legal protections for the unborn has been a motivating issue for many voters, and arguably one of the reasons for Republican supermajorities in the Kentucky legislature. As a result of legal protections for the unborn, abortions dropped by more than 1,800 between 2021 to 2022. More than a dozen pro-life laws have been enacted since 2016. And these laws err, not on the side of circumstances of conception, even if horrific, but on protecting vulnerable human life. Now the debate centers on difficult cases, leaving many to wonder if the difficult cases will unravel protections for Kentucky’s unborn.

If pro-life voters are forced to address hard cases like Hadley Duvall’s, shouldn’t pro-abortion voters address abortion survivors like Gianna Jessen? I had a chance to meet Jessen at a banquet several years ago. She challenged the crowd to stand up for the unborn. Jessen, who suffers from cerebral palsy, said it’s easy to compartmentalize “abortion as a political decision, or a right.” But her very existence reminds us that she is not a right, but a human being.