The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade has triggered this question in West Virginia: Now what?
The answers vary, but here are some observations and possibilities:
First, and most importantly, regardless of where you stand on the issue, abortions are no longer available in West Virginia. The state’s only abortion provider, the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston, announced shortly after the Friday morning decision that it would stop performing abortions.
“Due to the inaction of our lawmakers to repeal the crime of abortion in our state code, it is impossible for our clinic to provide abortion,” said executive director Katie Quinonez.
She is referring to West Virginia code section 61-2-8 that makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by three to ten years in prison. The only exception is for “saving the life of such woman or child.”
That law has its roots in Virginia, before West Virginia became a state. It was made part of West Virginia state law in 1868 and was included in the rewrite of the State Code in 1923. The Roe decision in 1973 superseded the law, but it remained on the books.
The repeal of Roe apparently means the old law is back in effect, although it conflicts with any number of other laws passed since Roe that put certain constraints on abortion, such as The Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act, which prohibits abortions—with exceptions—after 20 or 22 weeks, depending on how the pregnancy is measured.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a strong pro-life supporter, praised the Court decision overturning Roe, but now he has the responsibility of providing some guidance to the state and county officials on how to proceed, given the legal confusion.
“As we are providing legal counsel on the law, I would ask everyone — this is the time to assure there are no abortions. We should actually take the time to save as many lives as humanly possible,” he said on Talkline Friday.
Morrisey noted that if the old abortion law is challenged, it may be difficult to defend. That means pro-life legislators may want to return to Charleston to rewrite an abortion law. Given the strong conservative lean of both chambers, that would likely mean a law prohibiting abortions in the state. The only question would be what, if any, exceptions would apply.
Pro-life Governor Jim Justice said he’s waiting on legal guidance, but he added that he is willing to call lawmakers into a special session to craft a new bill outlawing abortion.
“I applaud the Supreme Court’s courageous decision today. I’ve said many times that I very proudly stand for life, and I am rock-solid against abortion, and I believe that every human life is a miracle worth protecting,” Justice said.
So there is a lot of sorting out to do in West Virginia. For the moment, a West Virginia woman seeking an abortion will have to go elsewhere, and given the pro-life positions of a majority of political leaders in West Virginia, that will likely remain the case for years to come.