West Virginia passes sweeping abortion ban with few exceptions
Under the new laws, rape and incest victims would be able to end the pregnancy only after reporting to law enforcement
The West Virginia legislature passed a sweeping abortion ban with few exceptions on Tuesday, a bill members of the Republican supermajority said they hope will make it impossible for the state’s only abortion clinic to stay open.
“It is going to shut down that abortion clinic, of that I feel certain,” Robert Karnes said on the senate floor, amid shouts from protesters standing outside the chamber doors. “I believe it’s going to save a lot of babies.”
Under the legislation, rape and incest victims would be able to obtain abortions up to eight weeks of pregnancy, but only if they report to law enforcement first. Such victims who are minors would have until 14 weeks to terminate a pregnancy and must report to either law enforcement or a physician.
Rape and incest victims would have to report the assault within 48 hours, and a patient must present a copy of a police report or notarized letter to a physician before the procedure can be performed.
Abortions also would be allowed in cases of medical emergencies.
West Virginia joins the ranks of states moving to ban abortion in the aftermath of the US supreme court decision earlier this year to end the constitutional right that protected abortion rights nationwide.
That left it to states to decide if abortion should remain legal, which in turn has ignited intense debate, especially in states controlled by Republicans, about when to impose the ban, whether to carve out exceptions in cases involving rape, incest or the health of the woman, and how those exceptions should be implemented.
The West Virginia bill now heads to the desk of the Republican governor, Jim Justice, who has signed several anti-abortion bills since 2017.
Both the senate and the house approved the new bill after several hours of debate.
Dozens of protesters wearing pink shirts reading “bans off our bodies” and holding signs reading “abortion is healthcare” staged a rally in the capitol rotunda.
Some sat in the gallery as legislators discussed the bills. Legislative leadership asked that the onlookers remain silent. At least one protester was escorted out by police.
Lawmakers inserted several provisions specifically targeted at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s first abortion clinic when it opened in 1976. It has been the state’s sole abortion clinic for years.
The bill states that surgical abortions can only be performed at a state-licensed hospital by a physician with hospital privileges. Anybody else could face three to 10 years in prison. A physician who performs an illegal abortion could lose their medical license.
Pregnant people who obtain illegal abortions will not face any form of prosecution under the bill.
Kaylen Barker, spokesperson for the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, said the clinic will not be shutting down.
Like many clinics that perform abortions, the facility does not offer the procedure daily. Most days are dedicated to services for low-income patients on Medicaid with nowhere else to go.
The Democrat Owens Brown, West Virginia’s only Black senator, spoke against the bill. He said he saw a body overwhelmingly comprised of white, middle-aged to elderly men who are middle-class or above.
Brown compared men passing legislation that overwhelmingly impacts women to laws passed by white lawmakers when slavery was legal. He said “all laws are not good laws made by men”.
“That’s somewhat irrational in many ways to be able to apply a law that will never apply to you,” he said. “It’s easy for you to sit there and do that because you will never have to face the consequences of your actions.”