Eric Douglas Published

New Abortion Law Stuck In Limbo; Legislature Will Return In August

Capitol Dome & West Virginia State Capitol Bell - WV.jpg

After a full day of wrangling and discussion, the West Virginia Legislature failed to pass the abortion bill it worked on all week. The two chambers had significantly different views on how it should proceed.

After 10 p.m., both chambers reconvened and then adjourned again until recalled by the Senate President or the House Speaker.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, indicated from the podium that it will likely be more than a week.

At this point, there will be a conference committee to iron out the differences. Each chamber will send five members.

The House of Delegates had passed a bill earlier this week along party lines that only had exceptions to protect the health of the mother. Later, the House added an amendment allowing abortion in the case of rape and incest, as long as a police report is filed and the pregnancy hadn’t progressed beyond 14 weeks.

The Senate changed that exception to eight weeks for adults and 14 weeks for children — or mentally incapacitated victims of rape or incest. The upper chamber also removed the enforcement provisions of the House bill, making it so there were no criminal penalties for doctors that performed an abortion.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, all eyes in West Virginia immediately turned to a 19th century law still on the books, but no one was sure if that law was enforceable. Originally passed in 1849, before West Virginia became a state, the law included criminal penalties for both health care providers and for people seeking to have an abortion.

That day, the state’s only abortion provider, the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston, suspended providing abortions. They immediately began calling patients with appointments telling them not to come.

In an opinion offered less than a week later, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, said he believed the law was enforceable, but could be improved with legislative attention.

Several groups sued the state, seeking an injunction against the law.

“In this instance, we have conflicting statutes, one of which was drafted in 1849, and several of which have been drafted more recently, including one that went into effect last month,” said Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tara Salango, who issued that injunction. “It simply does not matter whether you are pro-choice or pro-life. Every citizen in this state has a right to clearly know the laws under which they are expected to live.”

Following that ruling, the Women’s Health Center began scheduling patients again. Justice called the legislature into special session ostensibly to work on a tax reduction proposal but added “clarifying West Virginia abortion laws” to the official call on Monday.

He cited the return of activity at the clinic as his motivation for the change.