Hadley’s Law would add exceptions to KY abortion ban, bill named after Owensboro survivor

January 12, 2024 | 12:10 am

Updated January 11, 2024 | 11:53 pm

Photo courtesy of Hadley Duvall

Owensboro native Hadley Duvall is determined to be a voice for victims who need one. Duvall, a survivor of sexual assault, gained national attention last year when she told her story in Gov. Andy Beshear’s campaign ad. Now, a new proposed bill named “Hadley’s Law” aims to add limited exceptions to Kentucky’s strict abortion laws.

Currently, Kentucky law bans abortions except when they are necessary to save the life of the patient. 

Hadley’s Law, introduced Tuesday by Sen. David Yates (D-Louisville) and formally called Senate Bill 99, seeks to add exceptions for rape, incest, nonviable pregnancies, and women facing health complications due to pregnancy.

Though she’s only 21, Duvall’s voice has become one of the loudest in Kentucky when it comes to discussions on abortions.

In an interview with Owensboro Times, Duvall said she grew up enduring sexual abuse. She said from what she can remember, it started when she was 5 years old and was “pretty consistent” until she turned 15.

At age 12, Duvall was impregnated by her stepfather. She miscarried before she had to decide if she would keep the pregnancy.

Duvall didn’t tell anyone at the time. She said her mom was in drug recovery at the time, and Duvall didn’t want to burden the family or risk her mom relapsing.

Seeing other girls her age living out their normal lives eventually gave Duvall the courage to take the first step of telling her story.

“I was just kind of envious, like ‘wow, I wish that was me. I wish I didn’t have to be afraid when I went to sleep every night.’ I just finally got to the point where it was like, I can’t keep backing down,” she said.

About a month after she turned 15, Duvall sent a message to her mom saying they needed to talk. Her mom was so worried, she pulled Duvall out of school early that day.

That started a legal process that led to Duvall’s stepfather pleading guilty and being sentenced to prison. But Duvall still wasn’t nearly the advocate she is today.

“I didn’t really have a very loud voice yet at that point in my life, just because I was still a little bit ashamed of what I had gone through and what I had allowed,” she said. “I kept that secret. So I blamed myself for a lot in the early years.”

The tipping point came when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2020. In Kentucky, a trigger law that had been previously approved instantly placed a ban on abortions with the lone exception being when the mother’s life is at risk.

“I made a Facebook post about how people don’t really understand what it means for it to be overturned,” Duvall recalled. “I let people know that I was impregnated (by my stepfather). That was a really big secret, so for me to share that, I was really putting myself out there to be vulnerable. But I kept thinking like, if I was 12 [and pregnant at the time of the court’s decision], what would I even feel right now? There’s somebody that needs to read this post and maybe they’ll come to me or maybe they’ll go to somebody that they can trust, but whatever it is, somebody needs to hear it, somebody needs to see it. And the people that are celebrating this overturning need to know that this is not something to celebrate.”

The post went relatively viral and led to a few news interviews, and Duvall participated in a march in downtown Owensboro that summer. But she said things got kind of quiet and died off for a while.

“I still knew what my end goal was,” she said, noting that even at 15 she knew she one day wanted to be an advocate to help other little girls. “I was just staying the course of being in school, doing what I needed to do to have the power and to have the tools to make a difference.”

In July 2023, Beshear’s campaign team contacted Duvall about being in an ad, and she “immediately said yes.” The ad dropped in September and made headlines across the country.

“People were reaching out to me, and I got a lot of love honestly,” Duvall said. “The team talked to me and told me the risk. When you put yourself out there for something good, there’s always somebody who can find something bad in it, but that’s OK. They talked me through what to do and said if I ever got overwhelmed just let them know. I really had a good support system. I felt like always had somebody that I could turn to. I did bear some negativity, but I just had to learn to not even pay attention to it. I had so much support on social media, they kind of took care of the negativity for me.”

Asked about the impact of the ad on voters, Duvall said she felt like Beshear had paved his own way to re-election, but she did feel like “putting a face with the topic helped a lot.”

“Everybody hears about people getting raped and being impregnated, but it’s just more like a story,” she said. “People don’t really believe that it happens as often as it does. So I do think that it helps kind of make that a reality for some people, especially people that knew me but didn’t know that part of my story.”

Duvall said that whenever she agreed to be a part of the campaign, she wanted to make sure lawmakers were going to keep up the conversation beyond November. While she didn’t sit in on any of the writing of Hadley’s Law, she was in attendance Tuesday when it was introduced — and she only found out about 24 hours in advance that the bill was going to be named after her.

“I was just so honored. I never thought that me finding my voice and finding my strength would be able to help so many,” she said, though she acknowledged the bill is by no means certain to pass. “This is just a small step in the right direction. It’s not a victory. It’s just a little win, and we have a lot of work to do. But just knowing that it’s being heard and little girls around will see this as something that’s really happening, it’s all worth it. This is what I’ve been working towards.”

Duvall stressed she’s not trying to encourage abortions. The proposed legislation, she said, just gives survivors the option if they want it.

“You are not forced to have an abortion,” she said. “If you’re in one of these situations but it’s against your morals, or you are a rape victim and you have that support system and you feel like you have what it takes to be able to go through with the pregnancy and that’s what you and your doctor decide, then you deserve the same support as the next survivor who may not find that in their heart and who may want to go through with an abortion.”

To read the full language of Hadley’s Law and to keep up with any developments as it potentially makes it’s way through the legislative process, view it on the Kentucky General Assembly website here.

Owensboro Times asked local legislators if they were open to considering the bill, if they thought the (or a version of it) could pass, and if there was much talk about it among state lawmakers.

State Sen. Gary Boswell said Duvall’s was “a tragic story.”

He added, “Perpetrators of these crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law with no exceptions. I have been working for the pro-life movement for over 40 years to overturn Roe v. Wade. I remain committed to Kentucky law which only allows for abortion in the case of the life or death of the mother. There has been no discussion on this bill in the Senate.”

State Rep. DJ Johnson said it would be premature to comment on this or any other bill that is still in the Senate due to the “strong possibility of potential significant changes to the language.” 

“However, lawmakers — like many Kentuckians — continue to discuss the possibility of exceptions. I’m not sure what the future of SB 99 or anything similar might be,” he said.

State Rep. Suzanne Miles did not respond to a request for comment.

Duvall, who graduated from Owensboro High School in 2020 and will graduate from Midway University this May, said she’s just grateful to have developed a platform. She has no plans of slowing down her advocacy.

“I’m so grateful and blessed to be able to take the bad (situation) that I did go through and show people who are going through it right now that there’s more to being a victim. There’s more to the story of sexual abuse. Nobody gets to decide our path for us,” Duvall said. “[I’m grateful] to be able to continue to speak up, not even just about my story, but to give those individuals and the victims who need a voice to help them feel safe. I’m definitely not backing down anytime soon.”

January 12, 2024 | 12:10 am

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