West Virginia lawmakers pass abortion ban

West Virginia’s legislature on Tuesday passed a bill banning nearly all abortions, making it the second state to pass a new ban since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June.

The state Senate passed the bill 22-7, after a brief debate on Tuesday. The State House approved and passed the bill in a vote of 78 to 17. The ban will take effect 90 days after passage.

Republicans in West Virginia moved forward with the strict ban despite signs in other parts of the country that many American voters do not support the Supreme Court’s decision and largely oppose the toughest restrictions on the abortion. A similar effort to pass a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina failed last week, and voters resoundingly rejected a Kansas ballot measure that would have removed abortion protections from the constitution. of State.

Abortion had been legal for up to 20 weeks in West Virginia since July, when a state judge blocked a pre-deer to forbid which dates 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, which had been a sticking point for some conservative lawmakers. The bill they passedwhich now goes to Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s office, bans implantation abortion with narrow 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 he will sign a bill tightening state restrictions on abortion.

Exceptions for victims of rape or incest limit the procedure to eight weeks of pregnancy, or 14 weeks for people under 18. Doctors who break the law may lose their medical license but will not face criminal penalties. Anyone other than a licensed physician with hospital admitting privileges who performs an abortion faces felony charges and up to five years in prison. Those who have abortions are not punished.

West Virginia support the establishment of restrictions on abortion more than voters in most other states. A 2018 referendum on a constitutional amendment claiming that “nothing in this Constitution guarantees or protects the right to abortion or requires the funding of abortions” passed with the support of approximately 52% of voters.

But some lawmakers have raised concerns that harsh criminal penalties could drive doctors, especially obstetricians, out of the state at a time when some areas are known to be “maternity deserts” that are already doing facing shortages of doctors.

“Aren’t you worried that we’re losing doctors doing OB because of this?” asked state Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D) after the amended version of the bill was introduced, referring to midwifery. 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 docs, but now, today, we’re going to vote on it…and they didn’t have time to read it,” Baldwin said.

State Sen. Tom Takubo (R), who opposed the previous version of the bill and advocated removing criminal penalties for doctors, said he believed the new wording addressed fears doctors that they could be prosecuted for trying to save a patient’s life. suffering from a life-threatening pregnancy complication.

“I think once they read the contents of this amendment, they will feel comfortable,” he said. “I think it protects doctors who aren’t trying to break the law.”

Some anti-abortion Republican senators opposed the amended bill because they felt it did not go far enough in limiting abortion.

‘I’m confident this bill shuts down the abortion clinic,’ said Sen. Eric Tarr (right), who urged colleagues to vote no on the new language because he said it excluded too many exceptions.

1 in 3 American women has already lost access to abortion. More restrictive laws are coming.

“I am also torn and disappointed that my vote now is to decide when to execute an innocent person,” he added. “If life is sacred, when does it become sacred?

About 100 protesters gathered outside the Senate Chamber on 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 disrupted the body after the amended bill was introduced, shouting their dissent.

Even though West Virginia broadly supports some abortion restrictions, abortion access advocates say the bill is still at odds with the will of voters in the state.

“West Virginia lawmakers are working to ban abortion in our state, taking us back to the 19th century,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, the largest human rights organization. state abortion. “They are moving forward, despite recent polls showing nearly half of West Virginians identify as pro-choice, and a strong majority opposes this draconian legislation.”

Some members of the State House have offered to walk away from the bill and put the question directly to voters. They pointed to the defeated ballot measure in Kansas last month and suggested voters in West Virginia could surprise lawmakers at the polls.

The West Virginia governor rejected suggestions that voters should directly decide the state’s abortion laws.

“Coming down from the Supreme Court of the United States, it 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 abortion restrictions in July.

Days later, the State House passed an early version of a near-total ban. But the bill stalled after the state Senate was stymied by criminal penalties for doctors performing illegal abortions, including fines and jail time. The Senate eventually passed a bill that removed many penalties for doctors, but the House refused to approve.

State senators and House delegates spent more than a month trying to reach a compromise that could get the bill passed in both houses. In the end, the two chambers managed to find common ground and adopted the new version of the bill on Tuesday, without criminal penalties for doctors.

Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers passed the first new abortion ban since the fall of deer.

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