West Virginia House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban

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West Virginia House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban

Sharona Coutts

The West Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday night passed a controversial bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the state.

The West Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday night passed a controversial bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the state.

Doctors who performed abortions after that point would be subject to up to five years in prison, as well as fines of up to $5,000, if the bill succeeds in the state senate.

Physicians would also be required to file detailed reports to the West Virginia Division of Health for each abortion they performed. The reports would include the age and race of the woman, the method of abortion, and a “unique medical record identifying number to enable matching the report to the patient’s medical records.”

Women’s rights advocates have called the bill divisive, saying it pits medical professionals, women, and their families against each other.

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“This bill takes medicine out of the hands of doctors and places it with politicians by not just banning abortion care at 20 weeks, but by implementing an onerous reporting requirement for every abortion performed in the state,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, a woman’s rights group.

The bill is similar to a measure that is making its way through South Carolina’s state house, as well as a measure that passed last year in North Dakota, which resemble model legislation promulgated by the National Right to Life Committee in what it calls the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

These bills contain lengthy so-called legislative findings, which include assertions about the fetus’ ability to feel pain, which have been rejected by a great majority of the medical and scientific community.

And while the laws typically seek to buttress pregnant women from criminal or civil penalties, they increasingly allow others to impinge on women’s privacy and constitutional rights.

For instance, the West Virginia bill allows “the spouse, parent, sibling or guardian of, or a current or former licensed health care provider of, the woman upon whom an abortion has been performed” to obtain an injunction to prevent the abortion provider from “performing or inducing or attempting to perform or induce further abortions in violation of this article in this state.”

In other words, under this law, the brother of a woman who obtained an abortion could seek an injunction against the doctor.

“It’s a new type of crazy,” said Chapman Pomponio. “Once again, we see women’s health being used as a wedge issue.”

The bill passed 79 to 17, with support from many Democrats. The issue has riven the party’s caucus, with members reportedly coming close to blows when debating the bill earlier this month.

As yet, no date has been set for debate in the senate.