CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While much of the attention this election cycle has been focused on the multiple public offices on the ballot, voters will also consider a proposed constitutional amendment regarding abortion.
Amendment One, as written, would add the following language to the state’s governing document: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”
Republicans are urging support for the amendment, as displayed Thursday night on the steps of the state Capitol building.
“We are gathered on this portico with Abraham Lincoln,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, referencing the statute of the 16th president. “Looking across the Kanawha River in front of this Capitol of a state that was founded on the principle of human rights and dignity.
“This state, more than any other, recognizes the sanctity of life, human life, dignity, respect for human rights, and there is no greater right than the right to live.”
Around 80 people — some holding battery-powered candles and others carrying green and blue “Vote yes on 1” signs — participated in the rally, including multiple Republican lawmakers.
“All of us know that we’re in a society that doesn’t always appreciate, protect life to the fullest extent,” state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “It glorifies violence. We don’t pay adequate homage to our Lord, our savior. We know this year, we have the opportunity to do something really good for the people of our state.”
The state Legislature approved the amendment during this year’s legislative session, as well as a second amendment giving the legislative body oversight over the judicial system budget.
West Virginia is one of 17 states that allows funding for abortion, the result of a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that overturned a state law prohibiting Medicaid coverage for abortion unless to save the mother’s life or in cases of rape, incest or severe fetal diseases or defects.
The Hyde amendment bars the use of federal funding for abortions unless in the cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s health is at risk.
Melody Potter, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said women will still be allowed to seek abortions in certain cases if the amendment passes.
“We want to stop taxpayers’ dollars from going to pay for elective abortions,” she said. “West Virginia is made up of a lot of citizens that are pro-life. They value the sanctity of life, and we wanted to create awareness so people could have a voice on how their taxpayer dollars are spent.”
According to Potter, the party has 21 campaign offices across West Virginia and field staff dedicated to informing the public about candidates as well as other issues of importance to Republicans, including Amendment One.
“This is a statewide effort,” she added.
Opponents of the proposal say Amendment One is too limited and does not specifically mention allowing abortion in regards to rape, incest or the life of the mother. Supporters of the anti-abortion amendment, including speakers at the rally, say abortion would still be allowed in these cases.
“For those on the opposition that want to demagogue this issue, that’s wrong. They’re telling you an untruth,” Carmichael said. “What it does is simply say there is no constitutional right to an abortion. That’s what it does in its simplest terms.”
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of American Civil Liberties Union, said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” passing Amendment One would expand the government’s ability to enter one’s private life.
“If Amendment One were to pass, there would be absolutely no restrictions in our state constitution for our politicians to pass laws restricting access to abortion under any circumstances, even if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or even if a women would die if she was forced to carry a pregnancy to term,” he said.
Cohen also called the amendment an “extreme and dangerous change to our constitution” if approved by voters.
“When we’re talking about access to health care, there are already so many impediments for women in West Virginia to have reproductive freedom, to have freedom over their own choices and their own lives,” he said. “We are a rural state. There is only one abortion clinic in our state. Someone should not be denied the right to make those most personal decisions merely because they’re poor.”
The one abortion clinic in the state is in Charleston. The Planned Parenthood facility in Vienna does not provide abortion services but does offer referrals according to its website.
The rally changed course at points; Morrisey, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, criticized Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin for not making a public position on the matter.
“I will never, ever waffle on pro-life issues,” he said. “I going to be your pro-life champion in the U.S. Senate, we’re going to make sure we defund Planned Parenthood, we’re going to make sure we pass Amendment One and we’re going to make sure we have a true, pro-life senator from West Virginia.”
Manchin has not made a statement on Amendment One. A request for comment to the Manchin campaign was not returned by the time of publication.
Gov. Jim Justice, one of the rally’s final speakers, touched on the matter briefly before shifting to other matters, including the 3rd Congressional District contest between Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, and state Senator Richard Ojeda, D-Logan.
“What happens to West Virginia if we awaken — awaken — on Wednesday after the election on Tuesday and we watch the TV and Ojeda is elected?” he said to boos.
“You say no, but what happens if you don’t go to work and it happens? What happens if all of a sudden that happens to be the swing vote — the vote — that puts Nancy Pelosi in charge? Just think about it for a second. I’ve said this over and over: if that happens, Donald Trump will kill me.”
Miller attended Thursday’s rally and spoke in favor of its passage.
Miller and Ojeda are in a close battle for the 3rd District, a seat that is currently vacant following the resignation of current state Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins. Justice appointed Jenkins and former House Speaker Tim Armstead to the high court in August.
Justice later attacked Manchin, Ojeda and other politicians who “rah-rahed” teachers and education staff during the statewide teachers’ strike earlier this year.