CHARLESTON, West Virginia –
A bill banning abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, will come to a final vote Friday in the West Virginia Senate, potentially making the state the first to pass new legislation restricting access to abortions since the US Supreme Court ruled last month removing their protected status as a constitutional right.
Several Republican-led states had “trigger” abortion bans before the court’s ruling, but lawmakers in West Virginia are taking action because of legal uncertainty over whether a 19th-century ban that was overturned by Roe v. Wade from 1973 could be enforced now.
As in other states dominated by socially conservative lawmakers, there is little question whether abortion will be outlawed across the board now that states have the power to do so, but whether the ban will apply to pregnancies caused by rape or incest. .
In South Carolina, a ban with no exceptions has been introduced. In Arkansas, outgoing GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson would prefer to add them to the ban already in place, but has refused to ask lawmakers to address the issue in a special session.
The high-profile example of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio, a state without a rape exception in its abortion restrictions, who traveled to Indiana for an abortion has amplified the debate.
Tension over the issue gripped the Indiana Senate in a session that began Thursday and finally adjourned after midnight. A final vote is expected Saturday on the bill, which includes exceptions for rape and incest.
The West Virginia bill, which some lawmakers have complained was not reviewed by any Senate committee, would mandate prison time for medical providers who perform abortions. The measure, which has already passed in the Chamber of Deputies, allows exemptions for victims of rape and incest up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The waiver requires victims to report their assault to police.
The bill also provides other exceptions for an ectopic pregnancy, a “medically nonviable fetus,” or a medical emergency that could kill or cause substantial and irreversible injury.
The state’s only abortion clinic initially stopped offering abortions after the latest ruling, but resumed this month when it filed a court challenge over whether the old ban applied. On July 18, a Charleston judge barred the state from enforcing the ban, ruling that it had been superseded by a series of contradictory modern laws, including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called a special legislative session to consider an abortion ban, saying during a news conference earlier this week that the abortion bill “is so important, it’s misplaced. We need to modernize our law.” and what we have in the books are old”. He did not indicate whether he would sign the bill that passed the House, and the governor’s office did not immediately return an email Thursday requesting comment on that version.
Wednesday’s vote in the GOP-dominated House of Representatives came amid a protest by dozens inside the Capitol and followed a noisy public hearing in which most speakers, given just 45 seconds each to express their opinions or be interrupted, they opposed the bill.
Most of the 90 speakers who came to the microphone opposed the bill. They included Addison Gardner, 12, a Buffalo High School student, who posed a vivid scenario for lawmakers.
“If a man decides that I am an object and does unspeakable and tragic things to me, am I, a child, supposed to carry and give birth to another child?” she said. “Am I going to put my body through the physical trauma of pregnancy? Am I going to suffer the mental implications? A child who had no say in what was being done to my body. Some here say they are pro-life. What What’s wrong with my life? You don’t care about my life?
Another speaker, Lorrie Lugursky of West Virginians for Life, said she got pregnant at 15 and was told an abortion was her best option, but didn’t go through with it. “God saved my girl,” she said.
On Friday, people sitting in the packed galleries above the Senate chamber shouted “shame on you” as the afternoon session went into recess almost as soon as it began. The senators planned to resume the session later that day.
In Indiana on Thursday, there was a nearly four-hour delay in a Senate session as lawmakers met privately to discuss the exceptions, which were eventually shelved over strong objections from some conservative lawmakers.
“The exceptions amount to the death of innocent unborn children,” said Sen. Mike Young, the Republican who introduced an amendment that would only allow abortions to protect the life of the mother.
Eighteen Republicans ultimately joined 10 Democrats in voting to keep the rape and incest exceptions in the bill. But the votes of many of the Republicans who voted to eliminate the exceptions will be needed for the bill to advance to the House. If not enough is changed, abortion could remain legal in the state for now.
A final vote is expected on Saturday.
Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Arleigh Rodgers in Indianapolis contributed to this report. Rodgers is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.