Republican gubernatorial candidate in Kentucky appears to soften his hardline opposition to abortion

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron appeared to soften his hardline opposition to abortion on Monday, telling a Kentucky radio station that he would support amending the state's abortion ban to add exceptions allowing for the termination of pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Cameron, the state's attorney general, has steadfastly supported the current Kentucky law that bans all abortions except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury.

But during an interview with WHAS-AM, Cameron signaled that if elected governor he would be willing to sign legislation providing abortion exceptions for instances of rape and incest.

“There’s no question about that,” the GOP challenger said.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign accused Cameron of trying to hide his well-established “extreme views” on the abortion issue.

“Throughout his time in office, even before this campaign began, Daniel Cameron has made it clear that he supports Kentucky’s extreme abortion ban with no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest," Beshear campaign spokesperson Alex Floyd said in a statement. “He has repeated that position in public statements, questionnaires, press interviews and debates.”

"Either recent polling numbers have changed Cameron’s core beliefs, or he is lying to Kentuckians now that he is seven weeks from an election,” Floyd added.

Cameron's shift could be the latest indication that more Republicans see the abortion issue as a political liability. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, voters have protected abortion rights via ballot measures in several states, including Kentucky. Now, the Bluegrass State showdown between Cameron and Beshear is among the nation's most closely watched elections in 2023.

The abortion issue rose to the forefront of the campaign recently when Beshear's campaign launched a TV ad linking Cameron's position to an extreme scenario of the state's abortion ban — requiring young victims of rape or incest to carry their pregnancies to term.

The ad represents a reversal of roles in this socially conservative state — where Republicans traditionally went on offense in statewide races touting their opposition to abortion. Now, Beshear has become the aggressor against his anti-abortion GOP challenger — signaling a willingness among Democrats to press the issue since the Supreme Court overturned a nationwide right to abortion.

Former President Donald Trump has warned Republicans against locking themselves into positions that are unpopular with a majority of the public and has argued that the Supreme Court’s decision gives abortion opponents the right to “negotiate” restrictions where they live rather than rely on federal curbs.

Cameron touted his anti-abortion credentials during the state’s crowded spring GOP primary. But since winning the gubernatorial nomination, Cameron and his allies generally have downplayed the abortion issue while focusing on other topics, including crime rates and transgender rights.

Cameron staked much of his political identity to his staunch opposition to abortion. As attorney general, his office has defended the state’s abortion ban in court. During a Republican primary debate in March, Cameron expressed support for the law.

When asked for a follow-up statement Monday on Cameron's radio remarks, his campaign said he supports the current abortion ban law. “But if the situation in Kentucky were to change and the legislature brought him a bill to add exceptions for rape and incest, he would, of course, sign it,” it said.

Beshear's campaign said that amounted to Cameron doubling down in support of the current ban.

“The Cameron campaign’s own statement today says he supports a law banning abortion with no exceptions for survivors of rape and incest," Floyd said.

Beshear has consistently called the state's abortion ban an “extremist” law that he says the “vast majority” of Kentuckians disagree with, pointing to the lack of exceptions for rape and incest. In the past, he said it provides rape survivors with “no options despite the fact that they have been harmed and what they’re going through is ... absolutely zero fault of their own.”

Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said recently that the rape and incest exceptions have become the “talking points” of abortion-rights groups and politicians.

“Is a child conceived as a result of rape or incest any less human, or does the child have any less dignity than a child conceived in the loving embrace of their parents?” Wuchner said.

She didn't comment immediately Monday on Cameron's remarks that he would sign legislation adding rape and incest exceptions. A bill to allow exceptions to terminate pregnancies caused by rape or incest was introduced in the 2023 session but made no headway in the state's GOP-dominated legislature.

Last year, abortion rights supporters notched a rare victory in Kentucky when voters rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any constitutional protections for abortion. It came after years of Republican lawmakers eroding access to the procedure in the Bluegrass State.