Democrats, Republicans choose up sides on abortion amendment

The Democratic and Republican parties have taken opposite sides on Amendment One, the proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution that could dramatically impact abortions in the state.

The state Democratic Party has taken a position against the amendment, while the Republican Party supports it.  More on that in a minute, but first some background on the amendment.

West Virginia is one of just 17 states where taxpayer dollars are used to pay for abortions.  The payments are through Medicaid as part of state funded health care for poor women.  The controversial policy dates back to a 1993 decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In Women’s Health Center of WV v. Panepinto, Justice Margaret Workman wrote for the majority that the state had an obligation to pay for abortions for poor women “so as to not infringe upon the constitutional rights of our citizens.”

This practice has been a constant thorn in the side of pro-life Republicans who strongly object to tax dollars paying for a procedure they find abhorrent.  Pro-choice Democrats have defended the policy, arguing that abortion is a women’s health issue and that low income women should not be denied the procedure just because they cannot afford it.

But earlier this year, the Republican led Legislature passed a resolution that would amend the state Constitution, specifying that lawmakers, not the courts, have the right to determine abortion policy.

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion,” reads the proposed amendment.*

This past Saturday, state Republican Party leaders meeting in Wheeling, adopted a resolution backing the amendment.  The resolution reads, “The State Executive committee of the West Virginia Republican Party supports the passage of Amendment One, in solidarity with the values of our platform and in defense of the thousands of unborn killed with taxpayer dollars in the name of choice.”

State Democratic Party Leaders adopted the opposite position at their recent meeting.  Party Communications Director Brittni McGuire said they voted “to oppose Amendment 1 because of the extreme nature of the amendment… the amendment does not protect the life of the mother or child and it does not take into consideration cases of rape or incest.”

Political candidates are not as beholden to party platforms as they once were.  Candidates more frequently choose their own path rather than adhering to dictates from their party.  However, the disparate positions of the two parties on Amendment One remain significant.

They crystallize the opposing views on a topical and emotional issue that voters will be asked to decide in November. As such, it’s reasonable to expect any and all candidates running for the State Senate or the House of Delegates to take a definitive position for or against the amendment.

*(Editor’s note: An earlier version had incorrect language of the amendment.)

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