CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Republican-dominated West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, a piece of legislation almost identical to the Mississippi law currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court’s decision in the Mississippi abortion case could lead to the overturning of its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, an outcome many conservative lawmakers in West Virginia indicated they are more than in favor of.
“If it was up to me, we would ban it outright,” Republican Del. Adam Burkhammer said of abortion, speaking on the House floor in support of the bill. “But that’s not the bill before us – we’re taking steps in a positive direction.”
For those who think banning abortion after 15 weeks is a step too far: “I would argue that doesn’t go far enough,” Burkhammer said. “I believe life begins at conception.”
Current law in West Virginia prohibits abortions after 20 weeks and requires women to undergo state-directed counseling and wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Parents must be notified before a minor receives an abortion.
The bill passed by West Virginia’s House 81-18 would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks except in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality. It provides no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
The legislation will now move on to the state Senate, which is also dominated by Republicans.
Democratic Del. Danielle Walker, a mother who has had an abortion and the only Black woman in the West Virginia legislature, said every year, the West Virginia Legislature spends time and resources chipping away at access to abortion care, which she called “a common, normal medical procedure.”
“The restrictions, the burdens and the harm continue to fall on people with uteruses,” she said. “When will the shackles and chains be broken from my uterus and other folks that have uteruses?”
During the discussion, two Democratic women proposed an amendment that would allow for exceptions to the 15-week ban for victims of rape or incest. The amendment failed overwhelmingly.
Assistant Minority Whip Del. Lisa Zukoff said she believes life begins at conception, but that the 15-week ban bill goes too far.
Zukoff said there was a 14-year-old girl in her district in Marshall County who was raped by a family member and became pregnant. A law banning abortions after 15 weeks would have been prohibitive to that child receiving abortion care, Zukoff said.
“Is that fair to the girls of West Virginia? I don’t think it is,” she said. “I think we’re asking with this bill to trade one life for another, and to me that’s just not acceptable.”
Republican Del. Kayla Kessinger said she believes more needs to be done at the legislative level to protect young women from sexual assault.
“It’s something we do not talk about enough in this body and in this country,” she said. But Kessinger spoke against the amendment, saying that providing an exemption for incest and rape victims when it comes to abortion would do nothing to stop incest and rape from occurring in the first place.
“I believe that circumstances surrounding conception should never determine the value of human life,” she said. “If we believe that life starts in the womb, then it is our obligation to protect and defend life regardless of the circumstances surrounding conception.”
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