CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of state-funded medical necessary abortions has more than tripled in the last five years and some leading state lawmakers are trying to find out what has caused the increase.

Members of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance questioned state Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Medical Services Commissioner Cindy Beane about the increase for several minutes Tuesday. The committee asked for the pregnancy termination analysis during last month’s meeting.

That analysis shows there were 502 Medicaid-funded abortions in 2013. There has been an increase every year since including a total of 1,560 in 2017.

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Carol Miller

The sharp increase is cause for concern, Delegate Carol Miller (R-Cabell) said.

“Really in five years the total number of terminations has tripled. I would like to know why,” Miller said. “Medicaid is covering contraception. There must be some reason.”

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) also said there has to be some reason for the increase.

“I would like to know what took place to cause that. It doesn’t sound like it was a policy change as to who was covered and who was eligible—so there must be some other factors,” Armstead said.

The executive director of the pro-choice group West Virginia Free, Margaret Chapman Pomponio, told MetroNews it seems the committee’s discussion has centered on ideological and political grounds rather than the health and well-being of women and families.

“It’s just simply not the compassionate thing to do to penalize poor women in the way some of those legislators are suggesting,” Chapman Pomponio said.

The state Supreme Court’s Panepinto decision in 1993, authored by Justice Margaret Workman, requires the state to pay for abortions for poor women.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio

“I’m often asked what medically necessary means,” Pomponio said. “It is whatever the patient and the doctor deem is medically necessary. It is a legal medical procedure and we don’t see any other procedures singled out this way.”

One factor for the increase may be an increase in the total number of state residents covered by Medicaid in recent years. Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decided to go with the expansion as part of the state’s response to the Affordable Care Act.

Armstead said it also could have something to do with the state’s drug epidemic.

“I think we’re seeing that affecting so many people’s lives in our state that it wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t have some affect. But I don’t know if that’s ultimately caused this huge rise,” Armstead said.

Senator Robert Karnes (R-Upshur) asked the DHHR’s Beane if there was any way to find out more about the doctors. Karnes said the names could be redacted or replaced with a placeholder number.

“Perhaps give us a Top 10 list of doctors,” Karnes said during the meeting.

Karnes told MetroNews later he wanted to find out if a relatively few number of doctors are responsible for the increase.

Chapman Pomponio said Karnes’ comments made her shudder.

“There are radical anti-abortion zealots out there who have harmed doctors, killed doctors and so when you hear that he wants a list of names it sounds like a target list and it was pretty alarming,” she said.

Lawmakers asked the DHHR to provide it more information if possible. Miller said it may be difficult to find out exactly what is causing the increase.

Tim Armstead

“We have to see what they do keep records of in order to ask the right questions. Often it’s asking the right questions is the way we get answers,” she said.

Armstead and others want to get to the reasons for the increase.

“We are are interested in knowing what those factors are because when you start to see a doubling of state-funded abortions that should sound a lot of alarm bells for a lot of people,” Armstead said.

Chapman Pomponio said leading lawmakers should spend their time on other issues.

“There’s a lot more going on that needs their attention,” she said. “We’ve polled West Virginians and they believe it’s unfair to take away that kind of coverage.”

WV Medicaid Pregnancy Termination Analysis

Year          Amount          Volume

2017        $326,103         1,560

2016        $396,424         1,217

2015        $375,310            763

2014        $297,394            544

2013        $278,756            502

2012        $268,205            517

2011        $354,134            630

2010        $335,152            678

2009        $302,881            677

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