June Leffler Published

Abortion Access In Question After Leaked Supreme Court Draft Ruling

An activist, who declined to provide her name, speaks outside the Supreme Court in protest against the Texas abortion law that prohibits the procedure around six weeks into a pregnancy in Washington, DC.

West Virginians on both sides of the abortion debate are reacting to a leaked, draft ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The news outlet Politico published a draft ruling for an abortion case set to be decided on this summer. In the ruling, a majority of justices voted to overturn Roe V. Wade, which has protected a woman’s right to abortion for 50 years in the U.S.

“On a personal level, I had a range of emotions… feeling numb and shocked, while simultaneously expecting a decision like this to eventually come,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio with the reproductive rights group WV Free. “Even if the decision were to come down as it was leaked, from Justice Alito, that doesn’t mean that abortion will immediately be illegal. So this is a clarion call for people to wake up, get out of bed and go to work.”

WV Free and other pro-choice groups are reiterating their commitment to abortion access and asking supporters to voice their concerns to federal and state lawmakers.

“We’re not backing down. Because people deserve abortion on their own timeline, in their own community, and with a provider they trust,” said Communications Director Kaylen Barker for Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion clinic.

West Virginians for Life Executive Director Wanda Franz said she was shocked by the leak, but agreed with the opinion.

“I felt somewhat violated that someone would take it upon themselves to act in such an illegal and nefarious way,” Franz said. “I’m very much in support of what is in the draft document that indicates the thinking of the justices right now.”

West Virginia’s U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito also said the leak was “disturbing” and that Roe remains the law of the land until the justices issue a final ruling.

Sen. Joe Manchin said he would not comment until the official ruling is released.

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will officially rule on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which asked the highest court to rule in favor of a Mississippi law that restricts abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The West Virginia Legislature worked to join a number of other states in passing similar legislation in the 2022 session, but it didn’t make it through on the last day of session.

Overturning Roe would let federal and state lawmakers decide on abortion access, likely creating a patchwork of protections and restrictions across the states. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the leaked opinion.

West Virginia has a host of state officials and laws on the books that echo a pro-life leaning.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is a vocal abortion opponent. He signed on in support of Mississippi’s 15-week ban as it headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“When the Supreme Court’s final opinion is published, we will weigh in more formally and work closely with the legislature to protect life in all stages as much as we legally can under the law,” Morrisey wrote in a statement.

A Republican super-majority in the statehouse will also benefit pro-life interests. Franz has had repeated success offering model legislation to state lawmakers. In recent years abortion access has been limited for minors and those seeking the abortion pill. Low-income women have also been restricted from using their Medicaid insurance to pay for an abortion. This year abortions based on a potential fetal abnormality, such as Down syndrome, were banned.

Red states across the U.S. also have also adopted “trigger laws” in recent years that would immediately restrict abortion if Roe is overturned. West Virginia doesn’t have trigger laws, according to both pro-choice and pro-life groups. It does have Amendment 1, which added language to the state constitution that abortion is not protected, though neither illegal. There is also old code on the books, now deemed unconstitutional and unenforceable, that says abortion is a felony punishable by years in prison.

“The question did come up at some point here in West Virginia, and we pointed out that we already have what’s essentially a trigger law…We have a law on the books that has been suppressed by [Roe V. Wade] that will spring back if the Supreme Court decision is overturned,” Franz said.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.