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House approves abortion survivors protection bill 93-5

MORGANTOWN — Not unexpectedly, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act drew passionate, relatively lengthy debate before passing overwhelmingly 93-5. It was one of five bills up for third reading and passage Wednesday morning in the House of Delegates.

The Protection Act, HB 4007, defines the meaning of “born alive” as after expulsion or extraction form the mother, the baby breathes, has a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or definite movement of voluntary muscles.

Delegate Evan Hansen

It requires a physician who attempts or performs an abortion that results in a live birth to exercise due medical judgment to preserve the baby’s life and have it transported to a hospital. For failure to comply, it sets civil and criminal penalties for the physician and an witnesses who fail to report the failure, but exempts the patient.

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, voted for the bill but characterized it as pointless politicking. Identifying himself as pro-choice, he said, “This bill presents and interesting dilemma, I think, for all of us. This bill does absolutely nothing.” It makes illegal what’s already illegal. “I think it makes absolutely no difference how I vote or how anyone else votes on this bill.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said no one in the Legislature wants to kill live babies, but politicians would use votes against the bill as attack-ad fodder. “It’s sick to use this as a political tool.” He also voted yes.

Monongalia County Democrats Evan Hansen and Barbara Evans Fleischauer did vote against it.

Hansen said the bill title alone is graphic and divisive. Three other state legislatures recently passed similar bills, which fell to vetoes because the governors viewed them as redundant – existing laws already protected those children.

Hansen said his own father is an OB-GYN physician and they often talked about the difficult decisions he had to make.  “A lot of these are life and death decisions we can’t even imagine. I think its wrong for us to run a bill that might criminalize doctors like my dad. … I’m not laying this political game. I’m going to vote no.”

Fleischauer said this bill is one of a series over the past several years brought in by outside interests pushing an agenda. “It’s not a solution to anything because it’s been illegal for decades.”

Delegate Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, aimed to contradict those who said the problem is non-existent, saying a simple Google search can turn up examples. (A search does turn up articles and YouTube videos.)

Delegate Dave Pethtel (right) talks with Delegate Joe Canestraro

And Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette,  cited the example of Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist who was convicted on three murder counts for killing three babies born alive after botched abortions. She said that’s not something West Virginia wants.

Delegate Buck Jennings, R-Preston, cited his experience as a paramedic delivering a 20-week-old infant, giving it CPR and helping keep it alive at the hospital. “If you can say, ‘Let’s put this up on a steel platter and don’t let it keep breathing,’” that’s wrong.

Some argued that West Virginia needs to show the world it’s pro-life. Lead sponsor Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, said the birth of her grandson inspired her. He was just 1.5 pounds when he was born, and 15 people were in the room working to save him. She’s speaking up for grandparents and families and the infants who can’t speak for themselves, she said.

Locally, joining Hansen and Fleischauer to vote no were Mon Democrats Danielle Walker and Rodney Pyles. Voting yes were Democrats Michael Angelucci, Mike Caputo, Linda Longstreth and Dave Pethtel, along with Republicans Jennings, Amy Summers and Terri Sypolt. Democrat John Williams was absent on Wednesday.

Other bills

HB 3039 expands a family court’s discretion in certain custody matters and parenting plans by eliminating the age 14 threshold for allowing a child to express a preference. Judiciary chair John Shott said a judge is already permitted to account for the preference of a child under 14, but this removes the threshold from code.

It passed 87-11. Locally, all voted yes but Fleischauer, Hansen and Walker.

HB 4004 creates the West Virginia Sentencing Commission, a standing committee under the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Correction. Shott said that with jails and prisons overflowing and counties suffering under burdensome jail fees, this bill addresses one aspect of justice reform.

The panel will serve as an advisory body, he said, on a wide range of matters, including parole, incarceration alternatives. Sentencing disparity, bail and risk assessment, and more. Similar bills passed the prior two years but died in the Senate. It passed 97-1. All local delegates voted yes.

HB 4022 updates the qualifications for the Higher Education Policy Commission chancellor. Current law, Shott said, forbids the chancellor form holding any other higher education administrative position. The bill allows the chancellor to also hold the equivalent position in the Council for Community and Technical College Education.

It also removes the job of Vice Chancellor for State College, a post that’s never been filled. It passed 97-1. Angelucci voted no.

HB 4103 places the Office of Drug Control Policy under the direct supervision of the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and was requested by the DHHR. It passed 97-1. All local delegates voted yes.

All five bills go to the Senate.

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