Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

House overwhelmingly passes abortion bill; now in Senate on second reading

MORGANTOWN – As expected, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed the abortion law bill after long debate Wednesday, the third day of the special session originally called to deal with a tax cut bill.

Action on the bill followed a morning public hearing that packed the House chamber with opponents who had to speak quickly to air their views in 45 seconds – to fit everyone into the time slot – and frequently get cut off mid-sentence.

And during bill debate, opponents assembled outside the chamber and chanted loudly enough to be heard over the members speaking.

The bill was on third reading with right to amend. A Judiciary committee amendment made some tweaks and corrections and inserted the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act into the bill.

A number of Democratic amendments failed. One by Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, proposed to reduce the required parental notice waiting period for unemancipated minors seeking an abortion from 48 hours to 12 hours. He cited concerns of minors experiencing an ectopic pregnancy or carry a nonmedically viable fetus being subject to excessive waits. His proposal died in a voice vote.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff offered one to strike the sentence declaring it is not a medical emergency when a patient declares intent to or might engage in conduct leading to death or harm. This also failed in a voice vote. Opponents argued that threatening suicide could offer a false pretense for the pateint and an easy excuse for the abortion provider.

Another effort at an amendment to strike state code 61-2-8, the criminal provision, failed again. This one went to a vote and failed 21-67, with four Republicans voting for it – including Joe Statler, R-Monongalia – and one Democrat voting against it.

Two amendments dealt with a rape and incest exemption and spurred the most debate.

The first was a general exemption. Lead sponsor Zukoff talked about young girls, 10 and 11, who could be victimized. “How would they even know how to start this discussion,” she said.

Delegate Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, said he is consistently pro-life, and the tough choice pro-life legislators face is this exemption. Children born from this sin and crime could face a life of hell, along with their mothers. “This is awful no matter what we do. The whole scenario is awful.”

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, has said several times that she is a victim of sexual assault and told her colleagues to consider the trauma of the victims. “It takes years and decades to claim yourself to be a survivor.”

It failed 20-68 with two Republicans joining the Democrats to vote yes.

Delegate John Hardy, R-Berkeley, then offered a compromise amendment. It grants an exemption for rape and incest in cases where a report is made to law enforcement and the probable gestational age of the fetus is not more than 14 weeks.

Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha and a co-sponsor of the prior amendment, was among those expressing reluctant support for this one.

“I hate the 14 weeks but I’d rather have something than nothing,” she said.

Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Wood, had offered an unsuccessful amendment in Judiciary limiting the exemption to six weeks, and supported this one. Bill opponents had been circulating memes saying he voted in favor of forcing rape and incest victims to give birth, he said.

And early Wednesday morning, his 14-year-old daughter texted the meme to his wife, saying, “I hope he knows he’s stupid.” He also heard from a woman, he said, who was raped at 14 and had an abortion because giving birth would have torn apart her family at the time; she went on to marry and become a mother.

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, was among the amendment’s opponents. He’s been a prosecutor, he said, and has put rapists in prison. He’s also prepped young rape victims for trial.

“Some of the bravest little girls I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “The abortion scarred them as much as the original act.” He doesn’t believe that destruction of a life is justified because of the harm inflicted upon its inception.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said he had a number of granddaughters, and this amendment particularly makes him think of his 10-year-old granddaughter who is developing early and looks older than she is.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like if she were that girl from Columbus, Ohio, that was raped. … For the next nine months she has to live through that rape because of the changes in her body,” he said.

She wouldn’t understand it, and she could suffer death or permanent damage by carrying the child to term. “I am not going to put her through the hell she would have to go through.”

Hardy’s amendment passed in a close vote, 46-43, with 28 Republicans voting yes.

With all the amendments out of the way, the debate turned to the vote on the bill.

No supporters spoke. Zukoff spoke about the attention and emotion the Dobbs decision has stirred across the country, and here. People come to her in the grocery story to talk about it, she said.

“This isn’t about us. It’s about the people we represent,” she said. “This matters to the women of West Virginia.”

The vote was 69-23 with two Democrats voting yes and five Republicans voting no.

The bill then crossed the Capitol to the Senate, which after a long day of inaction and waiting, took up the bill late Wednesday afternoon and gave it a first reading. It is on second reading, and subject to additional amendment, on Thursday.

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