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Legislative Session Begins with 15-Week Abortion Bill

Well, that didn’t take long.

The West Virginia House of Delegates started moving an abortion bill on just the second day of the regular session.  The House Health Committee Thursday passed out HB 4004 prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Republican majority rejected a series of Democratic amendments and passed the bill on a voice vote. It now goes to the Judiciary Committee.

The bill is a carbon copy of the Mississippi law that is now on appeal before the United States Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments in the case last month and are expected to rule later this year.

The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks, upending current law which generally prohibits abortions after 23 or 24 weeks, the stage at which a fetus is believed to be viable outside the womb.

The bill will likely move quickly through the House. Its fate is less certain in the Senate, although the bill would be difficult to ignore if the chamber receives it early in the session.

If the bill would pass, and Governor Jim Justice would sign it, the law would be quickly challenged. It is logical to expect a judge would put a halt on enforcement of the law until there is a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Court watchers believe the six conservative justices may be willing to let the Mississippi law stand, but not go as far as overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

West Virginia is not the only state attempting to restrict abortions.  National Public Radio reported last month that 21 states “are poised to immediately ban or acutely curtail access to abortions if the Supreme Court chooses to overturn or weaken Roe.

Notably, West Virginia already has a state law (61-2-8) that prohibits abortion.  However, the Roe decision negated the West Virginia law.  If the high court would overturn Roe, and thus leave abortion decisions to the states, abortion would immediately become illegal in West Virginia.

West Virginia could simply wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules before adopting legislation, but pro-life Delegate Kayla Kessinger (R-Fayette) is among those anxious to move quickly.

“States have a vested interest in determining what abortion should look like, when abortion should be available,” Kessinger said on Talkline Thursday. “So why are we doing it now? We want the Supreme Court to know Mississippi isn’t the only state that wants to tackle this issue.”

Katie Quinonez, executive director of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion provider, said the legislation is aimed at “banning abortion and making abortion as hard as possible for West Virginians to access, plain and simple.”

The abortion debate is certain to raise the temperature at the Capitol. These debates are always emotional and rarely is there any common ground. That will be evident Monday afternoon at three o’clock when the Legislature holds a public hearing on the bill in the House chamber.


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