Rape and Incest Exceptions Highlighted in Abortion Debate

The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed and sent to the state Senate a bill that outlaws abortion in the state, except where necessary to save the mother’s life, and limited instances of rape and incest.

The Republican majority in the House initially showed no interest in the exceptions for rape and incest. The amendments were voted down overwhelmingly in two committees and then on the House floor Wednesday 20-68 with 12 absences. But then the House narrowly passed  (46-43) a more narrow amendment proposed by Republican John Hardy of Berkeley County.

As our Brad McElhinny reported, the bill now allows “abortions in cases of rape or incest once a report is made to law enforcement and if a medical professional assesses that fewer than 14 weeks of gestation have gone by.”

The bill now goes to the Senate where there was some sentiment for exception for rape and incest even before the bill was modified in the House.

Similar debates are occurring in other state capitols now that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe has shifted the abortion issue back to the states. Some legislatures, but not all, are making exceptions for rape and incest.

Abortions in cases of rape and incest are rare. According to the Guttmacher Institute, just one percent of all abortions are rape cases and only 0.5 percent are incest.  Still, it is a highly charged debate that conjures up images of an innocent young victim. The issue exploded in the news recently when a 10-year-old Ohio girl traveled to Indiana for an abortion after she was raped.

The Poynter Institute looked at 22 states where new abortion laws are being adopted. It found that “15* offer no exceptions for rape, incest or both. Seven explicitly allow abortions in case of rape. All but Mississippi also allow abortions in case of incest.”**

Prior to the Supreme Court decision in Dodd, states typically made exceptions for rape and incest even as they passed laws limiting abortion. Mary Ziegler, a Florida State Law School professor who specializes in the history of reproduction and abortion, said the pro-life movement was never comfortable with that carveout and now believes it does not have to make that concession.

“There was a consensus that politically if you didn’t include exceptions for rape and incest, politicians wouldn’t go for it, voters wouldn’t like it and the Supreme Court wouldn’t tolerate it,” Ziegler told USA Today. “What you see now is pro-life groups saying it’s no longer a political necessity and we can be opposed to all abortions, and we want the GOP to be with us.”

Gallup and Pew Research polls consistently find that most Americans believe abortion should be legal, and an Associated Press/NORC poll in June determined 84 percent support abortion in cases of rape or incest.

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll has not asked voters for years how they feel about the abortion issue. However, the election of supermajorities of Republicans in both chambers, as well as a pro-life Governor, are strong indicators that West Virginia is a pro-life state.

However, does that anti-abortion sentiment extend to cases of rape and incest? Politically, the long-time opponents of abortion see an opportunity to finally close the deal rather than legislating around the margins. They came close in the House Wednesday before the narrow exceptions were included.  Now the attention turns to the Senate.

*(Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.)

**(Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. All but Mississippi allow abortions in cases of incest.)





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