West Virginia Republicans moved forward with the strict ban despite signs in other parts of the country that many American voters do not support the Supreme Court ruling and are largely opposed to tougher restrictions on abortion. A similar effort to pass a near total ban on abortion in South Carolina faded last week, and voters flatly rejected a ballot measure in Kansas that would have removed abortion protections from the state constitution.
Abortion had been legal up to 20 weeks in West Virginia since July, when a state judge blocked a pre-Roe prohibition dating back to the 19th century. The state borders several anti-abortion strongholds in the Midwest and South, including Ohio and Kentucky. Abortion is legal east of the state line in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
In West Virginia, the Republican-controlled legislature reached a compromise on penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions that had been a sticking point for some conservative lawmakers. the bill passednow going to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, bans implantation of abortion with limited exceptions to save the life of the pregnant person or in cases of rape or incest, as long as the victim reports the crime.
Justice has indicated that it will sign a bill that will tighten state restrictions on abortion.
Exceptions for victims of rape or incest limit the procedure to before eight weeks of pregnancy, or 14 weeks for people under 18. Physicians who violate the law may lose their medical licenses, but will not face criminal penalties. Anyone who is not a licensed physician with hospital admitting privileges who performs an abortion faces felony charges and up to five years in prison. Those who receive abortions do not face any penalties.
West Virginians support put restrictions on abortion more than voters in most other states. A 2018 referendum on a constitutional amendment affirming that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects the right to abortion or requires the financing of abortions” was approved with the support of about 52 percent of voters.
But some lawmakers raised concerns that harsh criminal penalties could drive doctors, especially obstetricians, out of the state at a time when some regions are known to be “maternity deserts” already facing physician shortages.
“Aren’t you worried that we might lose doctors who are practicing obstetrics because of this?” State Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D) asked after the amended version of the bill was introduced, referring to obstetrics. He also questioned why the Senate chose to vote on the new language without giving doctors a chance to weigh in.
“We had a lot of time where we could have involved the doctors, but now, today, we’re going to vote on this … and they haven’t had time to read it,” Baldwin said.
State Senator Tom Takubo (R), who opposed the earlier version of the bill and advocated removing criminal penalties for doctors, said he believed the new language addressed doctors’ fears that they could be prosecuted. for trying to save a patient’s life. who suffers from a pregnancy complication that puts her life at risk.
“I think once they read what’s in this amendment, they’ll feel comfortable,” he said. “I feel like this protects doctors who are not trying to break the law.”
Some anti-abortion Republican senators opposed the amended bill because they felt it did not go far enough to limit abortion.
“I’m sure this bill will shut down the abortion clinic,” said state Sen. Eric Tarr (R), who urged his colleagues to vote no on the new language because he said it excluded too many exceptions.
“I am also heartbroken and disappointed that my vote now is to decide when to execute an innocent,” he added. “If life is sacred, when does it become sacred?”
About 100 protesters gathered outside the Senate chamber Tuesday to oppose the bill and could be heard inside the state Capitol as senators discussed the bill. Some observers in the Senate gallery briefly interrupted the body after the amended bill was introduced, shouting their dissent.
Even though West Virginians broadly support some restrictions on abortion, abortion access advocates say the bill is still at odds with the will of the state’s voters.
“West Virginia lawmakers are working to ban abortion in our state, dragging us back to the 19th century,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, the state’s largest abortion-rights advocacy organization. “They are moving forward, despite recent polls showing nearly half of West Virginians identify as pro-choice and a strong majority oppose this draconian legislation.”
Some members of the state House have proposed rolling back the bill and instead putting the question directly to voters. They cited the ballot measure defeated in Kansas last month and suggested West Virginia voters might surprise lawmakers at the polls.
West Virginia’s governor rejected suggestions that voters should decide state abortion laws directly.
“From the Supreme Court of the United States, this is the responsibility of our legislature and our attorney general,” the judge said. said in august.
Justice called lawmakers back to the West Virginia Capitol for a special session to consider tougher restrictions on abortion in July.
Days later, the state House approved an initial version of a near-total ban. But the bill stalled after the state Senate deadlocked over criminal penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions that included fines and jail time. The Senate eventually passed a bill that eliminated many of the penalties for doctors, but the House refused to agree.
State senators and House delegates spent more than a month trying to reach a compromise that could see the bill pass both chambers. Finally, the two chambers managed to find common ground and on Tuesday approved the new version of the bill, without criminal penalties for doctors.
Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers passed the first new abortion ban since the fall of Roe.