West Virginia legislature agrees to ban abortion with few exceptions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia legislature on Tuesday passed a blanket abortion ban with few exceptions, approving a bill that several members of the Republican supermajority said they hope will make it impossible for the state’s only abortion clinic to continue operating them to offer the procedure.

“It’s going to close this abortion clinic, I’m sure of it,” Republican Senator Robert Karnes said in the Senate to shouts from protesters who were outside the chamber doors. “I think it will save a lot of babies.”

Under the legislation, rape and incest victims could have abortions up to eight weeks pregnant, but only if they first report to law enforcement. Such victims, who are minors, would have up to 14 weeks to terminate a pregnancy and would have to report to either law enforcement or a doctor.

Rape and incest victims would have to report the assault within 48 hours of an abortion, and a patient must provide a doctor with a copy of a police report or a notarized letter before the procedure can be performed.

Abortions would also be allowed in cases of medical emergencies.

The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has signed several anti-abortion laws into law since taking office in 2017. Lawmakers resumed debate on the bill Tuesday after failing to reach an agreement in late July, giving up a chance for the state to be the first to pass new legislation limiting access to abortion since the Supreme Court the US ruled in June that its protected status as a constitutional right was abolished.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives quickly approved the bill after several hours of debate.

Lawmakers inserted several provisions that they said were specifically aimed at the West Virginia Women’s Health Center, which was the state’s first abortion clinic when it opened in 1976 after the landmark Roe v. Wade of the US Supreme Court. It has existed for years as the state’s only abortion clinic, making it the ever-growing target of lawmakers and anti-abortion protesters.

The bill states that surgical abortions can only be performed in a state-licensed hospital by a physician with hospital privileges. Anyone else performing an abortion, including nurses and other medical professionals, faces three to 10 years in prison. A doctor who performs an illegal abortion could lose his license to practice medicine.

However, pregnant women who have illegal abortions will not be prosecuted under the bill.

Kaylen Barker, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Women’s Health Center, said the clinic will not close even if staff can no longer perform abortions. Like many clinics that perform abortions, the facility did not offer the procedure on a daily basis.

Most days are devoted to services like gender-affirming hormone therapy, HIV prevention and treatment, and routine pelvic care — cervical exams, cancer screening — mostly for low-income patients who are on Medicaid and have nowhere else to go.

Democratic Senator Owens Brown, West Virginia’s only black senator, opposed the bill before it passed the Senate. He said when he looks around at his fellow lawmakers, he sees a body made up mostly of middle-aged to older-aged white males who are middle-class or above.

Brown compared groups of men who passed laws overwhelmingly affecting women to laws passed by white legislators when slavery was legal in the United States. He said, “All laws are not good laws made by men.”

“That’s a bit irrational in a lot of ways, being able to apply a law that will never apply to you,” he told his fellow lawmakers. “It’s easy for you to sit and do this because you never have to face the consequences of your actions.”

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