LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican Daniel Cameron expressed sympathy for a woman who discussed the trauma of being raped by her stepfather in a powerful campaign ad, but said he still supports Kentucky’s current abortion ban that requires similar victims of rape and incest to carry their pregnancies to term.
During a Monday night appearance on Spectrum News 1, Cameron said his “heart goes out” to the “young lady,” and he expressed appreciation that she shared her story with him in the recent commercial released by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign.
Hadley Duvall, the Kentuckian shown in the ad, sounded unmoved by Cameron’s expression of empathy, responding: “It wasn’t really to share my story just with him. It was to give victims a voice that they need.”
“Daniel Cameron said himself that he cannot comprehend how traumatic the experience was for me,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “And he’s right. So I just want to know why he feels so entitled to force victims who have stories like mine to carry a baby of their rapist? It should be their choice.”
The ad went viral after its release last month, putting the debate about abortion exceptions at the forefront of the Kentucky governor’s race. Cameron has been wrestling with the complexities of the new era of abortion politics, appearing to redefine his position on Kentucky’s strict anti-abortion law twice within two weeks. It’s another sign Republicans are scrambling to find their footing on the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
During the Monday night TV program, Cameron repeatedly tried to connect Beshear, who is seeking a second term, to Democratic President Joe Biden, following a GOP strategy in red states. As Kentucky’s attorney general, Cameron has joined numerous lawsuits by GOP attorneys general to challenge Biden policies.
“On issue after issue when leadership has been needed to stand up to Joe Biden, I‘ve led the charge,” Cameron said during his solo appearance on the program after Beshear declined to participate.
The GOP nominee stressed his support for phasing out the state’s individual income tax and requiring some able-bodied Kentucky adults to work in exchange for health coverage through Medicaid.
He lambasted Beshear for vetoing transgender bills — one banning gender-affirming care for young transgender people and another barring transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity. The GOP-dominated legislature overrode both vetoes.
But the newest wrinkle came when Cameron spoke directly to Duvall without mentioning her by name.
In the ad, Duvall talks about having been raped by her stepfather when she was 12 years old. Duvall, now in her early 20s, became pregnant but miscarried. The stepfather was convicted of rape and is in prison. In the ad, Duvall said that “anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes.”
Responding Monday night, Cameron said: “I cannot comprehend just how traumatic that experience was. And my heart goes out to her, and I want her to know that.”
It was in contrast to Cameron’s initial response two weeks ago, when he lashed out at the ad without mentioning Duvall. That spurred a Louisville Courier Journal columnist to write that Cameron was acting like he was the victim.
On Tuesday, Duvall said she didn’t view Cameron’s remarks toward her as heartfelt, pointing to Cameron’s initial counterattack.
MORE ALL ABOUT KENTUCKY
The ad identified Duvall as “Hadley” from Owensboro. The Associated Press does not normally identify sexual assault victims, but Duvall chose to be identified and has spoken out publicly about what she experienced and its connection to the debate over abortion.
Twice during the Monday night program, Cameron reaffirmed his support for the current Kentucky law, which bans all abortions except when carried out to save a pregnant woman’s life or to prevent a disabling injury. He also expressed support for the law at a GOP primary debate in March.
Last month, Cameron said he’d sign a bill adding rape and incest exceptions, but soon seemed to take a more hardline stand, indicating he’d support such exceptions “if the courts made us change that law.”
Asked for his position Monday night, Cameron replied: “What I’ve said is that if something were to happen and the law was required to be changed and we had to have additional exceptions, I would certainly sign those exceptions.”
Democrats on Tuesday accused Cameron of doubling down in support of the current law. Beshear has denounced the near-total abortion ban as extremist, pointing to the lack of rape and incest exceptions.
Cameron has tried shifting the focus to Beshear’s support of abortion rights. Last year, Beshear vetoed a bill that included a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but it was overridden by lawmakers. Once Roe v. Wade was overturned, the state’s trigger law — passed in 2019 — took effect to ban nearly all abortions.
Duvall said Tuesday that she sees Cameron’s support of the current ban as untenable.
“It’s still unthinkable to tell a child, or anyone for that matter, that they must have the baby of somebody who rapes them,” she said.