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Big crowd for public hearing on House abortion bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On “Pro-Life Day” at the state Capitol, about 50 people spoke at a public hearing about a bill that would change the conditions under which Medicaid dollars could pay for abortions.

The bill would change the conditions from the current “medically-necessary” to allow use of Medicaid funds only if the life of the mother is in danger.

The health committee in the House of Delegates passed the bill along party lines on Jan. 25. The House Judiciary Committee is about to take up the bill, although Judiciary Chairman John Shott said staff is still analyzing it and the bill would not be considered today.

Shott, R-Mercer, did say the bill is likely to be considered within a week. House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, came into the public hearing for a little bit to listen to speakers.

HOPPY KERCHEVAL: Should WV taxpayers pay for abortion?

By a large margin, most who spoke at the public hearing expressed opposition.

“Here we are; another year, another abortion bill,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free. “Amid a ravaging opioid epidemic, this bill is kicking poor women and children when they’re already down.”

She addressed lawmakers: “For the moderates, think through what this would really do to poor women and families.”

Angela Cavender, a nurse, told those gathered in the House chamber: “Women find themselves as pawns in this political game, where there are those who want to impose their religious or personal interpretations on abortion for all.”

Louise Deal of Morgantown, who works with the Monongalia County chapter of West Virginians for Life, was one of those who spoke against the bill.

“Abortion is not healthcare,” Deal said.

She added, “I would ask that we limit Medicaid abortions to those that are intended to save the life of the mother.”

Sadie Shields, a student at Davis & Elkins spoke in favor of the bill.

“It breaks my heart knowing that taxpayer money is being put toward paying for abortions,” Shields said.

Heather Hill of Charleston works with women who have unintended pregnancies.

“These women are continuing the cycle of poverty in the state,” Hill said. “It’s going to be more harmful for their health, their families, if Medicaid funding is taken away from them.”

Jamie Lynn Crofts, legal director of ACLU of West Virginia, told those gathered that both the state and federal constitution protect abortion rights.

“Abortion is a constitutional right protected by both the federal and state constitutions,” Crofts said. “The state can’t ban Medicaid coverage for an abortion. It is simply unconstitutional.”

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