June Leffler Published

W.Va. Lawmakers Expected To Further Restrict Abortion Access


West Virginia lawmakers are expected to pass restrictions on abortion this legislative session.

Senate Bill 468 would bar health providers from performing any abortion if the patient expresses concern that the fetus could develop a physical or intellectual disability. Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor.

Supporters of the bill say it would protect the lives of those with Down Syndrome.

“Here in the United States, we take pride in welcoming people with disabilities. For example, we cut curbs for wheelchair use and provide accessible transportation and architecture. However, at the same time, we make it possible to kill those with disabilities while they are still in the womb,” wrote Wanda Franz, the director of West Virginians for Life, who lobbied for this measure.

Franz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reproductive rights advocates and OBGYN groups say the measure would compromise open dialogue between physicians and patients and further chip away at a woman’s right to an abortion.

“Bans like this have nothing to do with promoting equality. This ban is absolutely part of a larger campaign to stigmatize and restrict abortion,” said Women’s Health Center of West Virginia Director Katie Quiñonez. Women’s Health Center is the only abortion clinic in the state.

The bill goes just short of requiring abortion providers to ask why a patient is terminating a pregnancy. Abortion providers must write “a statement confirming that the reason for the abortion, as stated by the maternal patient, was not because of a disability” for every abortion performed and submit it to the state. Physicians that go against this law could lose their medical license. There are no penalties for women seeking abortions.

“It is it is going to force providers to interrogate their patients’ reasons for having an abortion, that is not okay. It could force patients to be in a position to lie to their physicians, that is not okay. And it will force physicians to potentially refuse care to patients, which is also not okay. And then it will force patients to potentially have to travel hundreds to thousands of miles away to get the care that they need. All of that is not okay,” said Quiñonez.

This bill is expected to be up for passage in the House on Saturday, the last day of session. Restrictions have a good track record of being passed in West Virginia’s Republican-controlled state house.

Another bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy got early traction this session, but has not made it to the Senate floor.

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