Her Story Helped Elect a Pro-Choice Governor. Now She’s Fighting for a Rape Exception to Kentucky’s Abortion Ban.

Hadley Duvall told Jezebel that "a lot of Republicans told me they changed their views," after she shared her story of surviving a rape-induced pregnancy at 12.

Her Story Helped Elect a Pro-Choice Governor. Now She’s Fighting for a Rape Exception to Kentucky’s Abortion Ban.
Hadley Duvall shared her story to help support Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) reelection campaign. Screenshot:YouTube

In the summer of 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Hadley Duvall wrote a Facebook post about being impregnated after her stepfather raped her when she was 12 years old. Duvall, who’s now 21, eventually miscarried the rape-induced pregnancy. That was the first time she publicly shared her story, she tells Jezebel, because she wanted people in her community in Kentucky to understand the implications of the overturning of Roe for survivors like her. A year later, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) campaign reached out to Duvall, inviting her to film an ad for his campaign. In the ad, which ran in September, Duvall addressed Beshear’s Republican, anti-abortion rival, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron directly: “This is to you, Daniel Cameron. To tell a 12-year-old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable. I’m speaking out because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.”

As a result of Duvall’s ad, in the weeks leading up to the election, Cameron was forced to go on the defensive for his extreme anti-abortion stance and his flip-flopping on whether he supported rape exceptions to abortion bans. In November, Beshear won the election handily in the deep-red state.

Now, Duvall says, the real work begins. On Tuesday, state Sen. David Yates (D) filed a bill to add exceptions to Kentucky’s total abortion ban to allow abortion care for pregnancies that are caused by rape or incest, and for pregnancies that are deemed nonviable or threaten the pregnant person’s life. The bill—which is being called Hadley’s law—could help survivors like Duvall who find themselves pregnant with their rapist’s child and without options in the state of Kentucky. Beshear has already promised to sign it.

A rape-induced pregnancy just compounds “the trauma and anxiety you’re already struggling to recover from every single day after being assaulted,” Hadley said. “For you to be forced to carry that pregnancy, have your rape always be with you, be powerless over your own body from not only a violent sexual act but now being forced to give birth—why would we do that to women?”

Unsurprisingly, previous attempts to get rape exceptions added to Tenneessee’s abortion ban have been shot down. In February, Republican lawmakers seeking consensus attempted to add a rape exception that threatened anyone who “lied” about being raped with three years in prison. The threat of prison was ultimately removed after significant backlash. But hard-line anti-abortion Republicans in the legislature who opposed any exceptions still won out, and the bill failed.

In December, a woman in Kentucky sued the state for no other reason than she simply did not want to be pregnant. The lawsuit was ultimately withdrawn after the plaintiff learned her embryo no longer had cardiac activity, and Kentucky’s abortion ban remains active and the law of the land in its entirety. But on principle, the lawsuit made an important point: Abortion should be available to anyone who seeks it for any reason, without forcing them to prove anything or endure any sexual or medical trauma.

Duvall told Jezebel she hopes Kentucky Republicans will understand her bill isn’t about politics. “A lot of Republicans have told me they changed their views [on abortion] and voted Democrat for the first time last year,” she said, “because this is not about Republican or Democrat. It’s about having a choice after your choice was taken away from you.”

On Tuesday, Yates told the Associated Press that his bill would provide “a very small step in the right direction for a very limited number of victims that we can help.” Duvall also stressed that she sees this bill as “just a start,” recognizing that survivors have sometimes struggled to access rape exceptions. In Florida, a six-week ban that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in 2023 offered a narrow rape exception for those who could supply adequate “proof” of their rape (including a “restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation” to “verify” they were raped), prompting fierce protest from survivors and activists who accused lawmakers of “forcibly [putting] someone through a second rape.”

“Reporting sexual abuse is nowhere near easy, and a lot of women and girls don’t get believed,” Duvall said. Just last summer, Time shared the story of a 13-year-old girl in Mississippi who was impregnated by rape and forced to give birth because her family was unable to travel out-of-state—and because they were unaware that Mississippi’s abortion ban even had a rape exception, let alone how to seek out the exception to get care. Last January, the New York Times reported only two exceptions had been made in Mississippi since its abortion ban took effect in June 2022.

If “Hadley’s law” passes, Duvall stressed that many rape victims who seek care under the exception will be “younger,” like she was, and “their bodies can’t go through these things.” It was also important for Duvall that the bill includes an exception not just for rape, but for medical emergencies: “Being forced to carry a nonviable pregnancy to full term is traumatic,” Duvall said. “Knowing that carrying a baby is detrimental to your health but may not immediately fall in the category of life-threatening, so you’re forced to carry it, is traumatic.”

Now that Yates’ bill has been filed, it will have to pass out of both chambers of the legislature where Republicans hold a supermajority. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R) told local news station WHAS11 that if the majority of his caucus supports these exceptions, he won’t stop the bill: “What I do is say, ‘Alright, I want you to understand what you’re voting on, what the implications are and take it through the process and see how it ultimately ends up,’ whether I agree with it or not,” Stivers said. Yates told the outlet he believes bipartisan support exists for the bill, claiming newly-elected Attorney General Russell Coleman and Secretary of State Michael Adams both support it, though they’ve yet to publicly indicate as much.

“I’m telling lawmakers, even if they know someone who’s a survivor—if they haven’t experienced this themselves, they still have no idea what we’ve been through,” Duvall said. “It may not be today or tomorrow, but down the line, this could happen to someone you love. And if you can look them in the eye and tell them ‘You don’t deserve this medical procedure, even though your innocence was taken from you, your health is in danger’—I don’t know how they live with themselves.”

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