Government, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

Justice stresses need for abortion law special session (when Legislature is ready) and again urges vaccines, boosters to fight COVID

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday again stated the need for a special legislative session to clarify state abortion law, and said he’s waiting on the Legislature to be ready to go.

Also on Tuesday, Justice and his team commented on the continued growth of the BA.5 omicron COVID variant.

Justice addressed the abortion issue during his Tuesday briefing in response to a question about his thoughts on the Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling in the case brought by Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion clinic.

Circuit Judge Tera Salango issued a temporary injunction on Monday, putting enforcement of the state’s 1870 abortion law on hold because it conflicts with subsequent abortion legislation. She said, “If the Legislature wishes to resolve the conflict with repealing or amending various code sections, that is certainly in their purview and would appear free to do so under the recent Dobbs decision. 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.”

Later Monday, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he will appeal to the state Supreme Court. He said, “The statutes do not irreconcilably conflict since civil laws dealt with numerous aspects of unregulated post-Roe abortion, offered alternative enforcement methods in the face of Roe’s restrictions on the criminal statute and are similar to other situations where criminal and civil statutes dealing with the same topic exist in West Virginia law.”

Also, he said, the Legislature never intended to repeal and replace the Act when it passed post-Roe regulations, and the historical evidence proves this.

Justice declined to give his opinion on the ruling, except to call the case political theater. “We need to have a special session to clean up some of the old, old, ancient laws that are outdated, to say the very least,” he said, adding he’ll do that when the Legislature tells him it’s ready.

“This will not go on for a long period of time,” he said. He has no plans to wait for the Supreme Court to act on the appeal, though that case does need to play out in the courts.

He did not air his opinion on exceptions for rape and incest. The Legislature needs to bring its bill to him for review, and he expects to see commonsense exceptions in it. “Logic and reason surely to good, I hope, prevails.”

Following the briefing, the state Democratic Party issued a press release expressing impatience with the process. Party Vice Chair Danielle Walker said, “Jim Justice’s failure to call the Legislature back into session to repeal section 61-2-8 is a supreme dereliction of his duty as governor and an act of callous indifference that puts patients’ lives at risk. We are simply asking the Governor, in the name of human decency, to do what he said he would do three weeks ago. Call the legislature back in session and repeal the law he described as ancient and archaic. Since legislative leadership lacks the courage to call themselves back, it’s up to the Governor to act.”

COVID update

Tuesday’s COVID numbers: 2,745 active cases; 834 new cases; 309 hospitalized; 35 in ICUs; 11 on ventilators.

Justice and his team did their regular cheerleading for vaccinations and boosters.

“It’s not now something we should be running in total fear of,” Justice said. “It’s something we should be very respectful of. We can control our destiny in many, many, many ways.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said the BA.5 omicron variant is still growing, now making up 78% of all sequenced cases in the U.S. But only 50% of vaccine-eligible Americans have gotten one booster and only 27% over 50 have gotten a second.

The feds are considering opening up the second booster for all adults, he said. “That seems like an important opportunity.” The boosters don’t prevent infection but significantly reduce risk of serious illness and death. “We are not seeing the uptake we would like to see.”

Joint Interagency Task Force Director Gen. James Hoyer said he expected to hear from the CDC later Tuesday on the new Novavax vaccine coming to West Virginia, and that the online vaccine calculator will be updated to include that.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp