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State Senate pushes abortion bill amendments, passage to Friday; opponents raise concerns about provisions, process

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate pushed passage of the abortion law bill — HB 302 — until Friday, but it was still the chief topic of discussion on the floor Thursday morning.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, offered the morning prayer and thanked God for the lives of all present and that their parents chose to have them. He asked that the senators would “protect the sacred right to life.”

That right is stated in the Declaration of Independence, he said, and in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

Azinger paraphrased Jeremiah 1:5, in which God tells the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you.”

HB 302 was on second reading and subject to amendments, but Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, made the procedural motion to move the bill to third reading with the right to amend, so full debate will occur when the Senate reconvenes at 1 p.m. Friday.

Closing out the short floor session, two Democratic opponents offered some remarks.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone and a physician, said the state already has an ob-gyn shortage. “We certainly don’t want to make that worse.”

He read a letter from the chair and vice chair of the West Virginia section of the American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

The two doctors acknowledged the provision the House added on Wednesday to allow exemptions for rape and incest up to 14 weeks. But they said that’s still a problem because it requires the attack to be reported and most victims do not report past or ongoing attacks.

“This law would be yet another failure to care for these women and girls,” they wrote.

And what would qualify as exceptions to save the mother are rarely clear-cut, they said. Some issues unfold over time and the doctors may have a hard time knowing where the line is. This bill could cause them to practice outside the standard of care.

The bill is also cloudy, they said, about treating conditions that are not emergencies but carry risk of death or permanent injury — chemotherapy for cancer, for instance,

Finally, they said, “The inclusion of criminal penalties for practicing medicine sets a dangerous precedent.” The state faces a particular shortage of maternal and fetal medicine specialists and this bill will make recruiting harder.

Stollings said the bill will affect medical decision-making, generating fear of lawsuits and imprisonment.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he was disappointed in the process. He knows the special session is running long but he wished the bill had been run through committee so they could hear testimony.

“As a lay person,” he said, “I need to hear from docs. I need to hear from women who went through this for good reasons or bad.”

He knows the testimony wouldn’t change any votes, he said. “But it’s not about us. … You silenced the voices of our constituents and our experts.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp