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As abortion policies go to states, West Virginia rally urges political action

Abortion rights supporters rallied and marched at West Virginia’s Capitol on a rainy Saturday afternoon as speakers urged political action.

Danielle Walker

“Come on West Virginia, we’re angry. Come on West Virginia, it is our freedom on the line,” said state Delegate Danielle Walker, who is also vice-chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party.

The rally was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe vs. Wade’s federally-guaranteed right to abortion, leaving policies to the states.

Several of the speakers, including Walker, told their personal stories of abortion. “I will fight for the right to abortion,” Walker said.

Walker urged those who attended Saturday’s rally to take several steps to influence the course of events.

“Get registered to vote. Volunteer with a campaign. Make those donations,” Walker said.

Introducing a number of candidates who support abortion rights, Walker urged the crowd to vote for them and against their opponents.

“I need you to see us. I need you to know our names.” she said. “I need you to start giving pink slips in November because that is your freedom day.”

A West Virginia law from the 1800s making abortion a felony is now believed by all sides to be in effect. West Virginia’s only remaining abortion provider has stopped, saying the risk of prosecution is too great.

An injunction hearing over West Virginia’s law is set for July 18 in a Kanawha County courtroom. Meanwhile, the state Legislature has been discussing what, if anything, to do about abortion policies in West Virginia but no course is clear yet.

The law on the books in West Virginia dates back to the earliest days of the state. The law says:

Any person who shall administer to, or cause to be taken by, a woman, any drug or other thing, or use any means, with intent to destroy her unborn child, or to produce abortion or miscarriage, and shall thereby destroy such child, or produce such abortion or miscarriage, shall be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in the penitentiary not less than three nor more than ten years; and if such woman die by reason of such abortion performed upon her, such person shall be guilty of murder. No person, by reason of any act mentioned in this section, shall be punishable where such act is done in good faith, with the intention of saving the life of such woman or child.

Both West Virginia’s Attorney General and those suing over the law agree it could be interpreted to apply not only to medical providers but also to people seeking abortions. 

Elected officials have talked generally about a special session to change or clarify West Virginia’s abortion law, but there has been no specific disclosure of a timeline or policies to be considered.

Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, said on Friday that West Virginia’s abortion laws should be revised but not until legislators and lawyers are clear about what to do.

“The laws are archaic. They’re ancient. We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to clean it up. We’re either going to get our brains beat out in court or we’ve got to clean it up,” Justice said.

Loree Stark

Loree Stark, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, told the crowd at the Capitol on Saturday that the state law is “not only archaic, it’s cruel.”

“The statute itself is so broad, it’s almost impossible to determine what conduct it criminalizes,” Stark said.

“And we’ve watched this Legislature over the past several years pass restriction after restriction on abortion. So the question is now, how can there be this law from the 1800s on the books that completely criminalizes abortion — how can that exist with these other restrictions that the Legislature has passed over the past over the last few years?”

Stark said the lawsuit is among several concrete steps, including political organization, that those in the crowd could support. “The fight for West Virginians starts here in West Virginia and is on the ground.”

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