Republicans in West Virginia have pushed ahead with a tough ban despite signs elsewhere in the country that many U.S. voters disapprove of the Supreme Court ruling and largely oppose the toughest restrictions on abortion. A similar effort to pass a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina failed last week, with voters backing a ballot measure in Kansas that would strip the state’s constitutional protections from abortion.
Abortion has been legal in West Virginia for up to 20 weeks since July, when a state judge blocked aroe The ban 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 has reached a compromise on penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions, which has been a sticking point for some conservative lawmakers. The bill they passed now goes to the Republican governor. Jim Justice’s desk prohibits abortions except to save the life of a pregnant woman, or in the case of rape or incest, as long as the victim reports the crime.
The justice said he would sign a bill to tighten state restrictions on abortion.
The exception for victims of rape or incest limits the procedure to before eight weeks of pregnancy, or 14 weeks for those under 18. Doctors who break the law can lose their medical license but do not face criminal penalties. Anyone other than a licensed doctor with hospital admission privileges faces felony charges and up to five years in prison if they perform an abortion. There is no penalty for those who undergo an abortion.
West Virginians favor restricting abortion more than voters in most other states. The 2018 referendum on constitutional amendments, passed with about 52% of voters, affirmed that “nothing in this Constitution guarantees or protects the right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”
But some lawmakers worry that harsh criminal penalties could drive doctors, especially obstetricians, out of the state, which is already known as an “obstetric desert” and is already facing a shortage of doctors.
“Aren’t you worried we’re going to lose doctors doing OB because of this?” State Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D) asked Obstetrics after introducing a revised version of the bill. He also questioned why the Senate chose to vote on the new language without giving doctors a chance to participate.
“We’ve had a lot of time to get the document involved, but now, today, we’re going to vote on it … they haven’t had time to read it,” Baldwin said.
State Senator Tom Tubo (right), who opposed an earlier version of the bill and advocated removing criminal penalties for doctors, said he thinks the new language addresses doctors’ concerns that they could be prosecuted for trying to save the lives of patients with cancer ‘s concerns. Life-threatening pregnancy complications.
“I think once they read what this amendment is about, they will feel comfortable,” he said. “I think it protects doctors who don’t want to break the law.”
Some anti-abortion Republican senators oppose the revised bill because they believe it doesn’t do enough to limit abortion.
“I believe this bill will close abortion clinics,” the state senator said. Eric Tarr (R) urged his colleagues to vote against the new language because he said it excluded too many exceptions.
One in three American women has already lost access to an abortion. Stricter laws are coming.
“My vote now is to decide when to execute innocents, and it makes me sad and disappointed,” he added. “If life is sacred, when does it become sacred?”
About 100 protesters gathered outside the Senate chamber Tuesday to oppose the bill, which can be heard inside the state Capitol as senators discuss it. After the revised bill was introduced, some observers in the Senate gallery briefly disrupted the agency, chanting their dissent.
While West Virginians broadly support some restrictions on abortion, advocates for abortion access say the bill remains inconsistent with the wishes 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 Pomponeo, executive director of WV Free, the state’s largest abortion rights advocacy group. “Despite recent polls showing that nearly half of West Virginians support choice and overwhelmingly oppose this draconian legislation, they’re moving forward.”
Some state legislators have proposed dropping the bill and instead asking voters the question directly. They proposed a ballot measure that was rejected in Kansas last month and suggested that voters in West Virginia could surprise lawmakers in the polls.
West Virginia’s governor has rejected a suggestion that voters should decide directly on the state’s abortion laws.
“It is the responsibility of our legislature and attorney general to come down from the Supreme Court of the United States,” the justice said in August.
The justices called lawmakers back to the West Virginia State Capitol for a special session to consider stricter abortion restrictions in July.
A few days later, the state legislature passed a preliminary version of a near-total ban. But the bill stalled after the state Senate stalled over criminal penalties, including fines and prison terms, for doctors who perform illegal abortions. The Senate eventually passed a bill that removed many of the penalties for doctors, but the House refused to agree.
State senators and House representatives spent more than a month trying to reach a compromise to get the bill through both chambers. Ultimately, the two chambers managed to find common ground, and on Tuesday passed a new version of the bill without criminal penalties for doctors.
Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers passed the first new abortion ban since last fall roe.