Debates over rape and incest exceptions follow abortion bill through Legislature

For the second day in a row, majority members of a legislative committee voted down amendments to an abortion bill that would have stripped away criminal penalties and added exceptions for rape and incest.

Those policies are likely to be major dividing lines all the way through a special session where West Virginia lawmakers are considering a comprehensive abortion bill.

Exceptions for rape and incest were in a draft copy of the bill that was circulated around the House of Delegates on Monday. But by the time a bill was considered in committee, the exceptions had been removed.

Now, as the bill is on the edge of passage in one chamber, passionate debate has surrounded those questions. That’s unlikely to change.

The Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia organization on Tuesday afternoon blasted lawmakers for rejecting the exceptions for rape and incest.

“This action to force raped children to give birth is state sanctioned child abuse,” the organization stated.  “Children deserve to be cared for and nurtured, so that they can grow up happy and healthy. Child abuse victims deserve access to trauma-informed services that help them heal — not be forced to endure a pregnancy and give birth to their rapist’s offspring.

“We have seen rape victims as young as 10 and 11 years old who need abortion services. These children are victims, and the medical professionals who care for them are not criminals.”

The House of Delegates has the bill up for amendments and passage during a noon Wednesday floor session. After that, the state Senate will begin considering the same policy questions.

Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr acknowledged differences of opinion. He said it’s unclear right now where the full Republican majority in the Senate stands on the proposed exemptions.

“I think the main debate right now is probably around whether you exempt cases of rape and incest,” Tarr, R-Putnam, said on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio. “I think that goes beyond party affiliation. It comes down to a lot of anecdotal stuff that people have experienced in their family and what that means to them.”

But Tarr indicated he opposes the exemptions.

“I feel like a child that may be ill conceived is still a life. There’s still life at conception with that child and killing the child in the womb is no different than killing a child when it’s 20 years old. Say, ‘Well, your child was a rapist so we’re going to shoot you in the head. That’s just absurd.

“And to say that we’re going to save the mother from harm by not having her carry a pregnancy to term that was due to rape or incest, you can’t assume that there’s no harm to this lady for having gone in and choosing to kill a child. She’s going to have to live with that the rest of her life.”

West Virginia lawmakers this week took their first steps toward consideration of abortion policy after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned landmark Roe vs. Wade guarantees.

A public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday in the House of Delegates. Then, about noon, delegates are to consider amendments and passage.

A rally in support of abortion rights follows the public hearing.

House Bill 302 encompasses a range of abortion policies, eliminating any period after conception for a choice to end pregnancy. In recent years, West Virginia law had allowed abortion up to 22 weeks of gestation.

The bill maintains criminal penalties of three to 10 years of incarceration for medical providers who perform abortions — the main provision of a law from the 1800s that had been inactive while Roe was observed — but specifies that the pregnant woman would not be charged.

The bill allows exceptions for a nonmedically viable fetus, an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus, or a medical emergency, which is defined as a condition that requires an immediate abortion to avert the patient’s death or to avoid serious risk of damage to a major bodily function.

A medical emergency does not, in the bill, include psychological or emotional conditions.

The bill specifies several things that are not considered an abortion: a miscarriage, a stillbirth, use of established cell lines derived from aborted human embryos, treatment by a licensed medical provider that accidentally terminates or severely injures the fetus and in vitro fertilization.

The bill also specifies that it does not prevent the use of contraceptives.

The majority on the House Health Committee advanced the bill on Monday, voting down proposals to remove the criminal penalties and to add the exemptions for rape or incest.

Then on Tuesday morning, a majority on the House Judiciary Committee did the same.

Steve Westfall

The exemptions prompted vigorous discussion, with Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, saying he could go along with them if there were a 6-week limit after conception. Without a limit, Westfall doubted rape or incest exceptions will be included in a bill.

“Is six weeks too short? Possibly. But with no timeframe, nine months is way too long; six months is way too long. I’d like to see an amendment for rape or incest, but I can’t leave it open-ended. You could get an abortion at 8-and-a-half months because I was raped and changed my mind.

“I am not a woman; I’ve talked to some people. I couldn’t imagine being raped or being a 12-year-old and being pregnant by my stepdad or something. So I’m trying to save an amendment. I don’t think an amendment as-is will pass.”

A majority of committee members voted down Westfall’s six-week time frame amendment and then voted down a main amendment representing the rape and incest exceptions.

Lisa Zukoff

“We are talking about women, especially young girls, who are forcibly penetrated, who may be terrified, who may be in a relationship, who don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall.

Democrats on the committee expressed outrage over the bill.

Kayla Young

“If it’s your religious belief, if it’s your moral belief that is great for you. But get it away from me, get it out of my body, get it out of my uterus. Leave women alone, please. That’s it” said Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha.

“I said earlier, these questions keep coming. I wonder why. You bring them before us. This your choice to do this. This is about control. And I just wish you would leave people alone.”

Tom Fast,

Delegate Tom Fast, the vice chairman of Judiciary, said lawmakers are taking up the abortion issues because they have to.

“We are acting because of necessity, taking action due to the Supreme Court’s actions,” said Fast, R-Fayette.





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