The West Virginia House of Delegates will resume a special session Monday to consider the abortion issue again. Speaker Roger Hanshaw announced the resumption last week, noting that the session will coincide with regularly scheduled interim committee meetings.
The legal status of abortion in West Virginia was thrown into question when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and sent the issue back to the states. West Virginia has a law from the 1800s outlawing abortion, as well as laws passed since Roe that put limits on abortion.
Currently, a circuit judge’s decision has kept abortion legal in the state, but that ruling is on appeal to the state Supreme Court. The high court is expected to hear oral arguments early next year.
Lawmakers have already tried and failed once this year to pass a bill making abortion illegal. The issue was belatedly added to a special session in July, but the Republican super majorities in both chambers could not agree on a bill.
Much of the disagreement focused on two issues—whether there should be criminal penalties for anyone performing an abortion and whether there should be exceptions for rape and incest. It is hard to imagine those issues have been resolved since lawmakers left town.
It is possible Hanshaw has a more modest objective, simply appoint House members to a conference committee who can work on trying to reach a consensus. However, legislative agreement requires both chambers and Senate President Craig Blair is not on the same page with Hanshaw.
After Hanshaw’s call, Blair issued a blistering statement saying he only learned about the House’s action by press release. “To say I was shocked is an understatement,” Blair said. The Senate leader said it is pointless to name conferees from his chamber when there is no consensus within his caucus on an abortion bill.
Blair does not have to call his chamber back into special session just because the House will formally resume business and, as of now, Blair has no intention of gaveling his members back to work.
What Republicans do NOT want is a protracted and very public fight over abortion just prior to the election. Also, the more moderate Republicans fear passing an abortion bill with no exceptions for rape and incest would turn off voters.
Legislative actions are fluid and can change by the hour. Abortion is the kind of emotional issue that can take on a life of its own when the legislature is in session. The upcoming resumption of the House special session may turn out to be tactical maneuver.
But then again, it may set off another furious and contentious debate.