Huntington Mayor Williams, Democratic candidate for governor, pushes for abortion referendum

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, a Democratic candidate for governor, is asking the current governor to place a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to abortion and reproductive healthcare on the agenda for an upcoming special session.

Williams said his proposal seeks to empower the residents of West Virginia by allowing them to directly vote on a matter that significantly affects their lives and their families.

Steve Williams

“This approach not only democratizes the decision-making process but also ensures that any legislative changes regarding abortion and reproductive healthcare reflect the will of the people,” Williams stated.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling left abortion policies to the states, six of them — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont, and Ohio – have voted on abortion related constitutional amendments. The side favoring access to abortion prevailed in every state.

States with statewide ballot initiatives on abortion this year include Florida, where a state constitutional amendment to legalize abortion until viability will be on the ballot.

There’s a push for a statewide referendum in Arizona, where the state Supreme Court this week upheld an 1864 near-total abortion ban. 

Former President Donald Trump this week formally said he would not sign a federal abortion ban if he were re-elected later this year. He called for the issue to be decided by the states.

Williams, in his own statement, referred to Trump’s position.

“I am respectfully calling on Governor Justice to follow former President Trump’s lead by putting a constitutional amendment on reproductive freedom on the call for the special session in May. Let’s take this critical, and very personal issue out of the hands of politicians and let the people of West Virginia decide,” he said.

West Virginia lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill that  would not allow for abortion at any time during pregnancy, except for in some limited circumstances.

West Virginia’s law 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, 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.

The version that passed would put the licenses of medical providers at risk if the boards that oversee their professions conclude that they’ve gone beyond the boundaries of the law. People who aren’t licensed to provide abortions could still face criminal penalties if they attempt the procedure.

The law allows abortions for rape and incest up to eight weeks for adults, and a police report must be made.

Minors who are rape or incest victims 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.

During the most recent legislative session, Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, introduced House Joint Resolution 27 calling for an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing women the right to control their reproductive decisions, including abortion. 

The resolution was assigned to the House Health Committee and went no farther.

Speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline” today, Williams said West Virginia citizens should have a right to take their own direct vote on abortion policies.

“Let’s put it on the ballot,” Williams said.

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