Governor says he has signed West Virginia’s bill restricting abortions

Gov. Jim Justice says he has signed a bill restricting abortion in West Virginia.

“I signed it. It’s done. It is absolutely done,” Justice, a Republican, said during a briefing today.

The bill was written to become law after the governor signed it, rather than having a period of implementation like some bills do.

Justice had consistently said he would likely sign almost any bill passed by the Legislature, describing himself broadly as “rock solid for life.”

“I said over and over and over, I stand strongly for life,” Justice said today. “But I also said we have to have reasonable and logical exceptions.”

West Virginia lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive bill restricting abortion. In recent years, West Virginia law had allowed abortion up to 20 weeks of gestation.

Abortions would be allowed under limited circumstances: if a fetus is not medically viable, if the pregnancy is ectopic, which is when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus, or if there is a medical emergency, not including psychological or mental health situations.

The bill specifies that several things are not considered abortion: a miscarriage, stillbirth, use of established cell lines or human fetal tissue research, in vitro fertilization or contraceptives.

Adults seeking abortions in cases of rape or incest have up to eight weeks and must make a police report. Minors who are victims of incest or sexual assault may undergo an abortion within 14 weeks and may either make a report to law enforcement or be treated by a licensed medical professional in the hospital. The medical treatment may not be provided by the same person providing the abortion.

The bill specifies that the abortions that are performed must be in a hospital by a licensed medical professional with hospital privileges.

Justice acknowledged that the bill has drawn public scrutiny and said “This is such a volatile, volatile bill. There’s people on either side that are probably not going to get anything and everything that they wanted.”

The state’s only clinic, Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, halted the procedure earlier this week in anticipation that the governor would sign the bill and make it law. The center plans to remain open to provide services like annual exams, birth control, cancer screenings family planning and more.

Katie Quinonez

“It was an incredibly difficult decision we made in consultation with our legal team on Tuesday after the House of Delegates had passed the total abortion ban,” said Katie Quinonez, executive director of the women’s health center on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” expressing surprise that the governor’s signature hadn’t been announced already.

“Based on what has unfolded over the past couple of months with both the July interim session and this month’s interim session, we fully believed that Governor Justice would quietly, in the dead of night, sign this abortion bill into law on Tuesday evening.”

The center canceled appointments that had been scheduled for this week.

“We thought that was the most patient-centered approach to say, hey, ‘The politicians of West Virginia have banned abortion. We expect the governor to sign this. We don’t want you to come in tomorrow or the day after that for your appointment. We don’t want you to come in tomorrow or the day after for your appointment without a backup plan.'”

Quinonez contended the exceptions in the policy will prove to be too stringent for most people to meet.

“Most people don’t know they’re pregnant at eight weeks gestation,” she said. “Most people don’t come forward to law enforcement to report rape and incest because, frankly, victims are not believed. The reporting process is incredibly traumatic, and most people don’t want to be re-traumatized after they have just experienced assault.”

Dr. Clay Marsh

Dr. Clay Marsh, a member of the governor’s group of health advisers, addressed a letter to West Virginia University students, faculty staff and supporters in his role as executive dean of WVU Health Services.

“As a physician educator, I want you to know that our commitment remains unchanged to make sure that the best care and resources are available for our patients and our campus community,” Marsh wrote. “We will continue to support and advocate for the provision of safe care for all pregnant patients in accordance with all applicable laws.

“We don’t know what the next steps are yet, but we do know that open and honest dialogue with each other and leading with compassion and empathy is central to the culture we want to embody across the WVU System.”

He noted that the Women’s Resource CenterWell WVUStudent Health ServicesFaculty and Staff Assistance Program and WVU Medicine Women’s Health and Maternity Care offer on campus and online resources. The Carruth Center provides crisis counseling and support for students.

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