Four men running for the Republican nomination for governor are not inclined to change West Virginia’s near ban on abortion.
Patrick Morrisey, Mac Warner, Moore Capito and Chris Miller were asked about abortion during a debate last week in Raleigh County. The candidates also do not support putting the question of abortion rights directly to voters, as has occurred in some states.
“In the beginning, God. Life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” said Warner, a two-term secretary of state who had described his worldview as starting with his belief in God.
“Now, you also heard me say I’m a believer in the legislative process. And these 134 members have gotten together and come up with a reasonable approach. Both live matter, both the mother and the child matter. So if our Legislature said that is the appropriate way, with a responsible approach then as governor, I will follow that law.”
West Virginia’s Legislature changed state law on abortion in 2022 following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that left policy up to the states. West Virginia’s law bans abortion in most cases, but it does allow a window of time for adult and minor victims of rape and incest to seek an abortion.
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.
Health risks during pregnancy has been a hot-button issue nationally, with a focus on Texas and last fall’s case of a mother whose fetus had a fatal condition.
The major Republican candidates for governor said West Virginia’s law and narrow exceptions are appropriate.
“Protect the life of the mother, protect the life of the child. It’s pretty simple,” said Miller, a businessman who runs his family’s automotive dealerships. Miller encouraged the debate audience to watch “The Silent Scream,” a 1984 anti-abortion film.
“As your governor, you’re not going to have to wonder where I stand on pro-life issues, and that’s because as your attorney general I was the first pro-life attorney general in state history,” Morrisey said.
“I’ve been very aggressive trying to defend our state law. I’ve worked very hard to eliminate all the taxpayer funding. I was part of the team working with Mississippi — we worked to get rid of Roe vs Wade.”
Capito, who was the judiciary chairman when West Virginia’s law passed, responded by saying “I’m 100 percent pro-life. Always have been, and I will be as governor. Of course I support the law. When the Dobbs decision came down, the West Virginia Legislature sprang to action. We went right into session, and I helped write the bill that made West Virginia one of the first states to act.”
No to statewide referendum
Some states, including neighboring Ohio, have had statewide votes on abortion rights.
Ohio and Kentucky are among six states where most voters supported changing the state constitution to reflect abortion rights. Efforts are under way to do the same this year in more states like neighboring Maryland and Pennsylvania.
In West Virginia, Delegate Kayla Young (D, Kanawha) has introduced House Joint Resolution 27 calling for an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing women the right to control their reproductive decisions, including abortion. Moving ahead would require two-thirds approval by both chambers of the Legislature, and there has been no move to open that up.
The GOP candidates for governor said the West Virginia Legislature has already spoken.
“The voters of West Virginia, in my view, voted in a supermajority of conservative Republicans to do the work,” Capito said. “And that’s exactly what we did in the West Virginia Legislature.”
Morrisey described his own birth as seven weeks premature and said he was fortunate that his mother did not believe in terminating pregnancies. He said that has shaped his view.
“West Virginia has a strong law right now. I’m going to defend that law, and I’m going to work with the Legislature to make things even stronger,” Morrisey said.
The topic shifted when Miller and Warner got their turns. They were asked whether they would support a law preventing women from crossing state lines to get an abortion. Each said that would go too far.
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free, was frustrated by what she heard from the candidates.
“I have to say that it is stunning to hear a stage full of men discuss women’s health and lives so casually. They’re clearly not listening. They should stop reading talking points from the far right and actually talk with women and families around the state — and to young people,” Pomponio said.
“If they listened with a compassionate ear, they would hear that we have had enough of the onslaught of attacks on abortion care by a government that wants to control our bodies and our lives. The freedom to make our own decisions, define our own path in life, and safely care for ourselves, our families and communities — it’s all vital — to all of us.”
West Virginia’s current law is leading to maternity care deserts in the state, Pomponio said, driving young residents and doctors to leave.
“I got whiplash listening to them,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me to hear them say they want big government all up in our private business about abortion and reproductive health care, but in the next breath, say that government is overly involved in public health and vaccines. That they want government out of their health care decisions? How interesting is that? Which is it? It’s just dizzying hypocrisy.”