FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's attorney general stood firmly behind the state's near-total abortion ban Monday, saying he promotes Kentucky values "without fear or favor" though the Republican gubernatorial candidate stopped short of saying whether he supports adding more exceptions to the ban.
At a news conference, Daniel Cameron refrained from commenting on calls for the state to include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, avoiding a subject that has divided Republicans nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court gave states the authority to determine abortion law themselves.
Cameron, one of many Republicans gearing up to compete for the chance to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in his bid for a second term, also proceeded with caution when asked about former President Donald Trump's recent dinner with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist. Trump recently dined in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago club with Nick Fuentes, a far-right activist who has used his online platform to spread antisemitic and white nationalist rhetoric.
Asked about the dinner in an interview Monday, Cameron told The Associated Press: "I don't keep up with who the president is having dinner with."
Cameron, who is Black, won Trump's endorsement earlier this year and has touted the former president's backing in his bid for the GOP nomination for governor. Looking beyond Trump's controversies, Cameron said "the working men and women of this commonwealth appreciated the policies that were put forth by the prior administration."
On the abortion ban, Cameron said he supports the actions of the state's Republican-dominated legislature in passing the state's trigger law that prohibited nearly all abortions. Approved in 2019, the measure took effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned i n June by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state law carved out narrow exceptions to save a pregnant woman's life or to prevent disabling injury.
"It expressed the view of the commonwealth as it related to how we're going to protect life," Cameron said at the news conference. "So I continue to stand in support of that law and will continue to stand up for life."
Kentucky's trigger law includes no exceptions for rape or incest victims.
Asked Monday if he personally supports adding those exceptions, Cameron replied: "I support what the Human Life Protection Act says" - a reference to the trigger law. He then expressed support for the existing exception to save the life of a pregnant woman.
His position stands in stark contrast with Beshear's. The governor supports abortion rights and has denounced the trigger law as "extremist," pointing to the lack of exceptions for rape and incest victims.
Kentucky voters this month made their feelings known when they rejected a ballot measure that would have denied protections for abortion in the state's constitution. Abortion rights supporters secured other midterm wins elsewhere including Michigan, California and Vermont, where voters opted to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions.
About a dozen states have laws restricting abortion without exceptions for victims of rape or incest. While such exceptions were once regularly included in even the most conservative anti-abortion proposals, that's changed as battles over abortion have intensified. Republicans have at times split over whether to include exceptions to abortion bans.
In Kentucky, Cameron's office is defending the trigger law against a court challenge, A separate six-week ban that Kentucky lawmakers approved also is being challenged by the two remaining abortion clinics in the Bluegrass State - both in Louisville, the state's largest city.
Kentucky's Supreme Court heard arguments in the case just days after the election. Abortion rights supporters are asking the court to block the abortion bans while the case is being litigated.
Pointing to the extremely narrow exceptions, abortion rights supporters say the Kentucky legislature's hardline stand on abortion makes constitutional protections necessary.
The state's highest court has kept the abortion ban in place while it reviews the case, leaving abortions on hold in Kentucky and forcing women who can afford the procedure to look elsewhere.
Following the ballot measure's defeat, abortion opponents in Kentucky stressed their resolve to continue "defending life" and said voters elected large majorities of lawmakers opposed to abortion.
Cameron pointed to his own record as attorney general - successfully challenging Beshear's efforts to aggressively combat COVID-19 and challenging a series of policies from President Joe Biden's administration - when asked what separates him from the pack of GOP gubernatorial rivals.
"I've been in the arena these last three years and been standing up for the values of Kentucky," he said. "I've done so without fear or favor. And I think folks want somebody who's going to do the job and is going to stand up for the values of Kentucky without fear or favor."