W.Va. House Sends Constitutional Abortion Question to Voters

Mar 5, 2018

West Virginia's House of Delegates
Credit West Virginia Legislative Services

Voters in November will decide on a resolution that would effectively strip the constitutional right to have an abortion in West Virginia.

Adopted Monday by the House of Delegates 73-25, with two lawmakers not voting, the change authorizes the Legislature to control taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid. Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, emphasized Monday that it does not ban the procedure in West Virginia.

“This basically would take our Constitution to a neutral position,” Schott said.

The resolution would add a single but powerful line to state law:

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

Opponents argued the bill is unconstitutional. The West Virginia Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 1993, saying it discriminated against low-income women.

A Democrat-sponsored amendment Saturday that would have allowed for a special election on this issue in July was rejected along party lines. The resolution, said Del. Barbara Fleischaur, D-Monongalia, “is designed to bring out single-issue voters to maintain Republican majorities in the House and Senate.”

Federal Medicaid dollars can pay for abortions only in cases involving life endangerment, rape and incest. West Virginia exceeds those requirements, by allowing state Medicaid dollars for those situations and when an abortion is “medically necessary.”

“The amendment reads that the Constitution does not require the funding of abortion,” said Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, “which means Medicaid can, and likely will, continue to pay for those abortions until a future Legislature … makes the decision to prevent taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Kessinger sponsored a separate bill earlier in the session that would have eliminated Medicaid funding for abortions. It remains in the House judiciary committee and will likely not make it to the floor for a vote this session.

Between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, 1,560 Medicaid-funded abortions took place, costing about $330,000, according to state data.