CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a two-thirds majority necessary, a resolution that would remove presumed abortion rights from the state Constitution was passed by the Senate on Friday afternoon.

After the vote, Senate President Mitch Carmichael banged his gavel and told people who were observing from the gallery to settle down or leave.

“Shame!” one of the observers said. “We’ll be back!” Carmichael then asked doorkeepers to remove the observers from the gallery!

“Shame!” they repeated before departing.

The resolution passed 25-9. All those who voted against it were Democrats. But some Democrats — Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and senators Mike Woelfel and John Unger — voted in favor.

The resolution still has significant hurdles.

It now moves to the House of Delegates, where it would still need a two-thirds majority. If it passes there, it would be up for a vote of the citizens in the November election.

The new section to be added to the state Constitution would say: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

Over the past few months, conservative legislators have been scrutinizing Medicaid funding of abortions in West Virginia. The number of state-funded medical necessary abortions has more than tripled in the past five years.

The House of Delegates has been considering legislation that would change the terms of Medicaid-funded abortion to instances where the life of the mother is at risk, rather than instances of medical necessity.

West Virginia is one of 17 states where taxpayers pay for abortions for poor women.  The policy dates back to 1993 in Women’s Health Center of WV, et al. v. Panepinto, et al. before the state Supreme Court.


Margaret Workman

Part of that medical care was abortion.Justice Margaret Workman, who remains on the court, wrote for the majority that the state, acting “for the common benefit, protection and security of the people,” had an obligation to provide medical care for the poor “in a neutral manner so as to not infringe upon the constitutional rights of our citizens.”

The amendment being considered in West Virginia’s Senate was inspired by one in Tennessee that recently survived a constitutional challenge over the way it was instituted.

After three years of legal challenge — focused more on Tennessee’s vote-counting methods than on abortion law — a federal appeals court earlier this month upheld the amendment.

That state’s 2014 amendment also removed the right to abortion from the state constitution. It, too, said “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.”

The issue has received some national attention, including from The Huffington Post.

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