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Restrictions on Minors’ Abortion Access Get Through West Virginia Legislature (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association have published studies and policy statements opposing restricting minors’ access to abortion care.

UPDATE, April 28, 10:49 a.m.: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (D) on Thursday signed the GOP bill to restrict abortion care access for people younger than 18, the Associated Press reported. Only a judge can waive so-called parental notification under the state’s new anti-choice law.

West Virginia lawmakers on Saturday, the final day of the state’s legislative session, passed a measure to restrict minors’ access to abortion care. The state senate approved final passage of the legislation after the house scuttled an amendment that would have allowed for exceptions to the proposal.

The bill has been sent to Gov. Jim Justice (D) for signature or veto.

Parents or guardians in West Virginia today must be notified at least 24 hours before an abortion can be performed on a pregnant minor. However, a physician is allowed to waive the parental notification requirement if the physician believes it is in the minor’s best interest not to inform their parents.

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HB 2002, sponsored by Del. Kayla Kessinger (R-Fayette), would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion upon an unemancipated minor or a person who has been appointed a guardian or conservator due to the person’s incompetence until 48 hours following the delivery of written notice of the pending abortion, except in the case of a medical emergency.

Anti-choice organizations support the measure, which they claim will close a “loophole” in state law. Karen Cross, coordinator with West Virginians For Life, said minors are not mature enough to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association have published studies and policy statements opposing restricting minors’ access to abortion care. Parental involvement in a minor’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is required in 37 states. Of those states, all but one has an alternative process to seek abortion care, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

After lawmakers and sexual violence advocates raised concerns about the bill’s effect on sexual assault survivors, the bill was sent to a senate subcommittee for review. The bill was amended by the subcommittee to include an exception that allows licensed psychologists and psychiatrists to waive the parental notification requirement.

After the changes were unanimously approved by the house, some of the organizations who had opposed the original bill agreed to support the amended legislation.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights advocacy organization West Virginia FREE, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that her organization and others would support the bill because of the improvements that were made.

“When the Legislature hands you lemons, you try to make lemonade,” Chapman Pomponio said.

The bipartisan compromise hammered out by the house subcommittee was quickly undone last week by the a state senate committee, as lawmakers removed the amendments and sent the original legislation to the senate floor.

After the amended version of the bill was passed on Wednesday by the senate Health and Human Resources Committee, it was sent directly to the senate floor by state Sen. Charles Trump (R-Morgan), instead of being approved by the senate judiciary committee, which Trump chairs.

On the final day of the legislative session, the senate voted to pass HB 2002 on a 28 to 6 vote, after an amendment to include the house subcommittee compromise language was rejected. Later that evening the house approved the state senate’s changes to the bill, and voted 82 to 17 to approve the original bill.

“So much for compromise,” Chapman Pomponio told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “This maneuver is utterly lacking in integrity.”

“To cast aside the good work on the house bill was an insult to the medical community and the women of West Virginia,” Chapman Pomponio said. “It is disingenuous at best to assert that the lobby organization that has been at this for more than 20 years didn’t know what was in the bill. The fact is, they played legislators. What happened in the senate was a sham.”

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