West Virginia Legislature Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban
By Matt Pearce
West Virginia's state Senate has approved an abortion ban at 20 weeks' pregnancy, as the state House of Delegates did earlier, and by hefty margins likely to withstand a possible veto.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, vetoed a similar measure last year, when his fellow Democrats controlled the state Senate and the House of Delegates. Lawmakers had adjourned and could not try to override it.
This year, with Republicans in control of the Legislature, the bill passed the Senate by the same vote as last year, 29-5; and the House of Delegates approved it by an even larger margin, 87-12.
The ban is based on the premise that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, which is in dispute.
In Tomblin's veto last year, he cited constitutional concerns, according to the Charleston Gazette, and this bill is similar to last year's.
Planned Parenthood urged the governor to cast another veto.
"The politicians pushing this cruel measure are on the wrong side of public health, the wrong side of public opinion, and the wrong side of history," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
Twenty-week abortion ban proposals have grown in popularity among some conservative-leaning legislatures across the U.S. in recent years, despite repeated rulings from federal judges that such bans are unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which has barred undue restrictions on abortion before fetuses are viable outside the womb -- generally considered to be 24 weeks -- has declined to weigh in on "fetal-pain laws," at least so far.
The West Virginia legislation, titled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, provides no exceptions for rape or incest and threatens to strip medical licenses from providers who perform abortions after 20 weeks.
Federal judges have stopped similar pre-viability abortion bans in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Arkansas and North Dakota.
As of the start of February, 10 states had pre-viability abortion bans similar to the proposal in West Virginia, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health advocacy group.
Only a small fraction of all abortions are thought to take place after 20 weeks. But those who oppose such legislation, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, say such bans often lack enough exemptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies and to protect the life of the mother. Supporters of the ban contend that a child born as a result of rape or incest is innocent and should not be punished.
In January, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives canceled plans to debate a federal 20-week abortion ban after other GOP lawmakers, including many women, raised opposition.
Pre-viability bans are not the only restrictions periodically considered by some conservative state legislatures.
One Idaho lawmaker made news this week when, during a debate over a restriction on abortion-inducing medication, he asked whether women could swallow small cameras so they could undergo remote gynecological exams.
(That is anatomically impossible: A swallowed camera would go to the stomach, not the vagina.)
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