CHARLESTON — A bill banning abortions after 15 weeks and levying penalties for any physicians who perform them passed the West Virginia House Committee on Health and Human Resources on Thursday and is now on its way to the Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers on the committee — which is composed of 19 Republicans and six Democrats — voted on party lines, with Republicans in favor of the bill.
They rejected amendments from the Democrat members of the committee that would have allowed exceptions for sexual assault and incest and changed language from “women” to “patients,” which would have been consistent with other sections of code and to strike the criminal penalties for physicians who perform abortions.
House Bill 4004 does allow exceptions for “medical emergencies” and “severe fetal abnormalities.” Medical emergencies do not include any exceptions for psychological or emotional conditions, not limited to self-harm or suicide. An amendment to allow for such exceptions also was struck down by Republican members.
The bill is similar to a Mississippi law that is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments for that law were held in early December, and a ruling is expected in coming months that could annul protections established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Health committee members engaged in discussion on the 15-week ban and the proposed amendments for more than an hour.
Ash Orr, a community activist based in Morgantown, shared their experience receiving an abortion past the 15-week mark almost 10 years ago. Orr had a high-risk pregnancy, which they learned about when they were already 12 weeks pregnant.
Despite doctors telling them the potential danger of carrying the pregnancy to term, Orr did not meet the requirements for what would be considered a “medical emergency” under state code. Orr found an abortion provider and had a safe, successful abortion at the 16-week mark.
“I didn’t want to die at age 22 … if I had not had that abortion, I would not be here,” Orr said. “Had I been lucky enough to potentially survive childbirth, I would have been stuck with a partner that was abusive. We couldn’t afford to be good parents and provide for a child at that time.”
There is only one abortion provider in West Virginia — the Women’s Health Center, on Charleston’s West Side — although, in certain cases, such procedures can be accessed in hospital settings.
Existing state law outlaws abortion at 20 weeks of gestation.
Those against the bill pleaded with their Republican colleagues to consider the implications of limiting abortion access any further in the state, especially without exemptions for cases of sexual assault or incest.
“Think about if it’s your daughter, your wife, your mother or niece, your grandchildren. What if it were them?” asked Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. “Would you help them through those nine months of trauma? Can you imagine the pain they would feel every day?”
Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, who is vice chairman of the committee, was the only Republican member to share his thoughts with the committee, and they were brief. He voiced his disapproval for the amendments presented and urged the members of his party to vote them down.
“I would love to return to the days where Republicans would stay out of bedrooms and doctors’ offices,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. “You can’t even tell us why you’re against these amendments — you’re just (in) lockstep.”
The committee also approved House Bill 4005, which would make it illegal to transport or sell fetal body parts from an abortion. The proposed law would not apply to such body parts donated to stem cell research.
That bill also was sent to the House Judiciary Committee.
A public hearing for the 15-week abortion ban and the fetal body parts bill will be held at 3 p.m. Monday in the House chamber.