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After years of setbacks, abortion rights supporters in Republican-leaning Kentucky thought they had scored a major victory in November when voters defeated a measure to deny them any constitutional protections. to have an abortion.

But before the GOP-dominated Legislature ends its annual session, hopes that the state’s blanket abortion ban could be relaxed are dashed.

After years of making anti-abortion policies a cornerstone of their agenda, Republicans jumped on the issue this year, with abortion being tried in court and banned at all stages of pregnancy. Instead, social conservatives focused on legislation targeting transgender youth during the session that ended Thursday.

Some of the abortion bills, including those to restore abortion rights or rape and relative exemptions, never received committee hearings or were never assigned in committee.

For most states, this was the first legislative session since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and lawmakers on both sides dug in. Republicans are moving to further restrict abortion, while Democrats are seeking to preserve access.

In Kentucky, embattled abortion rights advocates hoped the momentum would swing in their direction, but they were disappointed.

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Democratic state representative Lindsey Burke has introduced legislation to restore access to abortion, acknowledging that “Kentucky voters spoke loud and clear last November.”

“If it’s not possible to pass my bill, I think a lot should have been done to at least get some exemptions,” added Burke.

Republicans pointed out Legal uncertainty surrounding Kentucky’s ban on abortions to save a woman’s life or prevent bodily harm has largely come into effect since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June stripped the constitutional right to abortion. In February, the Kentucky Supreme Court refused to strike down the law, sending the case back to a lower court to consider larger constitutional questions about whether abortion should be legal in the state.

Protesters outside the Kentucky Supreme Court demonstrate in support of abortion rights in Frankfort, Kentucky, November 15, 2022.  The Kentucky Legislature did not address the state's abortion ban during the annual session.

Protesters outside the Kentucky Supreme Court demonstrate in support of abortion rights in Frankfort, Kentucky, November 15, 2022. The Kentucky Legislature did not address the state’s abortion ban during the annual session. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Esley, File)

“I think there’s still a need for more transparency from the courts before we go forward,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, who predicted it would be difficult to convince opponents even before the legislative session begins. – Abortion Senators to add more conditions on when to terminate a pregnancy.

Abortion rights advocates hailed the defeat of an anti-abortion ballot measure in November as a clear mandate from voters. But key Republican lawmakers don’t see it that way.

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“When the opposition campaign ran a better campaign, it threatened people to vote ‘no,'” Thayer said.

The abortion debate drew widespread attention during the campaign, as both parties made grassroots efforts, but Kentucky’s subsequent legislative session turned quiet.

A bill briefly gained attention in late February, about a week after the state Supreme Court’s opinion. That measure allows abortions caused by rape or consanguineous sex up to 15 weeks into pregnancy. Another exemption allowed abortion if two doctors determined that the fetus had “an abnormality incompatible with life outside the womb.”

The bill’s lead sponsor was Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes, the House majority whip, but the measure was never referred to a committee.

“It’s something I believe in and fight for,” Nemes said in recent days, discussing the bill. But on the abortion issue, “I don’t think there’s a mandate on either side in Kentucky.”

State Rep. Rachel Roberts, a Democrat who pushed for rape and family ties last year, said she was surprised the exemption bill had gone nowhere.

“Voters’ rejection of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment means nothing to their party, which is as sad as it is unsurprising,” said Roberts, the minority whip.

Other failed abortion bills have scored big this year — from the Republican primary bill to restore illegal abortions to the law to allow for murder charges.

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Abortion came up in regular conversations during the session, but House Republicans did not publicly discuss abortion measures in caucus meetings, said Nemes, the GOP’s top pollster.

Kentucky GOP lawmakers Instead, he focused on an issue that galvanizes the party’s base across the US – limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Republicans overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Bescher’s veto of a bill that would have denied transgender youth access to gender-affirming health care and restricted the bathrooms they can use in schools.

“Those individuals who are currently unable to access abortion care in Kentucky need another political football,” said Angela Cooper, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “Unfortunately, they have chosen to attack trans youth by sitting in the wrong place in history.”

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