News Law and Policy

On ‘Roe’ Anniversary, West Virginians Protest New 20-Week Ban Proposal

Sharona Coutts

A group of nearly 100 West Virginians gathered at the state capitol on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade to protest a new bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization.

A group of nearly 100 West Virginians gathered at the state capitol on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade to protest a new bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization.

HB 2153 closely resembles a 2014 bill that passed the state house and senate but was later vetoed by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“The medical community has made it clear to me that the criminal penalties this bill imposes will impede that advice, and those options, to the detriment of the health and safety of expectant mothers,” Tomblin said at the time.

Reproductive rights advocates fear that this year could be different, however, as anti-choice lawmakers now dominate both legislative chambers, giving them the ability to override a veto. They said they believe it is more likely than not that the legislature would in fact override the governor, which would make West Virginia the 12th state to pass a radical 20-week ban.

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National polling has shown that, when given full context about the ramifications of a 20-week ban, the majority of respondents are opposed to the anti-choice measure.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, a women’s rights group that helped organize the event, said the introduction of the bill indicated “misplaced priorities” on the part of legislators.

Women at WV Demonstration

credit: WV Free

“Health care needs to be between a woman and her doctor,” she said, addressing the crowd.

The bill would have the opposite effect. It contains provisions that would allow the husband of a woman who obtained an abortion to sue her doctor or provider if the abortion was performed after 20 weeks or failed to meet other provisions of the bill.

It would also allow a woman’s “spouse, parent, sibling or guardian of, or a current or former licensed health care provider” to go to court to stop the provider from performing any future abortions.

The 20-week abortion ban contains a provision called a “litigation defense fund,” which would allow the state to set aside public funds to defend the law. Notably, in addition to public dollars, it would allow “donations, gifts or grants” to be made to the fund.

These provisions were not part of the ban that passed last year; however, a failed state senate version created a litigation fund.

The bill appears to be based on model laws developed by the National Right to Life Committee, but those model laws do not usually contain a litigation fund. Only Idaho has passed a law with a similar provision. Minnesota lawmakers introduced a similar bill last year, but it failed to pass, according to Rewire’s research.

In recent years, states have spent millions of dollars defending deliberately unconstitutional abortion restrictions. Pro-choice advocates believe the strategy is to pass as many such laws as possible, with the hope that one law could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider, and possibly overturn, Roe v. Wade.

The latest West Virginia bill has alarmed local doctors, who see it as an “insult” to the doctor-patient relationship.

“What physician wants to work in a state that sets up a fund that indirectly penalizes them and could even make them a felon?” said Derek Harman, a family doctor who attended the event. Harman is also a board member of WV Free.

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