15-Week Abortion Bill Advances Without Rape, Incest Exceptions

The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed overwhelmingly a bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The Republican-led House approved HB 4004 81-18.  The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bill is copied after a Mississippi law which is under review by the United States Supreme Court. West Virginia currently has a “pain-capable” law that prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks.

Notably, the bill now moving at the Capitol does not include exceptions to the 15-week deadline for cases of rape or incest. Delegate Lisa Zukoff (D, Marshall) proposed an amendment including the exceptions, but it failed 21-78.

The rape and incest exceptions have long been a part of abortion law. Even the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits Medicaid dollars from paying for abortion, includes those carveouts.

However, pro-life forces have always been uncomfortable with the exclusions.  If someone is opposed to abortion because they believe life begins at conception or that a fetus is a living baby regardless of the age, then that life must be protected, even if it was conceived in violence.

The removal of the rape or incest exception is an important marker for pro-life forces in their efforts to make abortion illegal.  It goes a step further in recognizing fetal personhood.

The pro-choice side has argued that a woman impregnated by rape or incest should not be compelled to carry the child to full term.  In some cases, a young girl impregnated by force may not even know she is pregnant until after 15 weeks, thus limiting her options.

Excluding rape or incest runs counter to the views of most Americans. A Gallup Poll from 2018 found that 52 percent of those questioned supported the right to abortion in those circumstances, even if the procedure “might be considered in the last three months of pregnancy.”  Forty-two percent opposed and five percent had no opinion.

Political affiliation plays a role in views on abortion. A Pew Research Poll last year found that 78 percent of “conservative Republicans and Republican leaners are far more likely to say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.”

And the West Virginia legislature is dominated by Republicans.

HB 4004 now goes to the Senate where Republicans also hold a supermajority. They can easily pass the bill without any Democratic votes. Once again, expect efforts to amend the 15-week bill to include exceptions for rape or incest.

Remember that all this is happening while the Supreme Court ponders the Mississippi case. Whatever the West Virginia Legislature does or does not do will be impacted by what the high court ultimately decides.





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