The West Virginia Legislature has passed a comprehensive abortion ban with some exceptions, passing a bill that some Republican majority members said they hope will make it impossible for the state’s only abortion clinic to continue offering the procedure.
“It’s going to close that abortion clinic, I’m sure of that,” Sen. Robert Karnes said on the Senate floor, amid chants from protesters outside the chamber’s doors.
“I believe it will save a lot of babies.”
Under the legislation, rape and incest victims would be able to have abortions up to the eighth week of pregnancy, but only if they first report it to law enforcement.
Such victims who are minors will have up to 14 weeks to terminate the pregnancy and must report to law enforcement or a doctor.
Rape and incest victims must report the assault within 48 hours of obtaining an abortion, and a patient must submit a copy of a police report or notarized letter to a doctor before the procedure can be performed.
Abortions will also be allowed in cases of medical emergency.
The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has signed several anti-abortion bills into law since taking office in 2017.
Lawmakers resumed debate on the bill on Tuesday after failing to reach an agreement in late July, squandering a chance for the state to become the first to pass new legislation restricting access to abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June for the removal of its protected status as a constitutional right.
The Senate and House of Delegates quickly passed the bill after several hours of debate.
Lawmakers introduced several provisions they said were specifically targeted at the West Virginia Women’s Health Center, which was the state’s first abortion clinic when it opened in 1976 after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade.
It has existed as the state’s only abortion clinic for years, making it an ever-increasing target of anti-abortion lawmakers and protesters.
The bill says surgical abortions can only be performed in a state-licensed hospital by a doctor with hospital privileges.
Anyone else who performs an abortion, including nurses and other medical professionals, could face three to 10 years in prison. A doctor who performs an illegal abortion can lose his medical license.
Pregnant women who perform illegal abortions will not face any form of prosecution under the bill.
Kaylen Barker, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Women’s Health Center, said the clinic will not close, even if the staff is no longer able to provide abortions. Like many clinics, the facility did not offer the procedure every day.
Most days are devoted to services like gender-affirming hormone therapy, HIV prevention and treatment, and routine gynecological care — cervical exams, cancer screenings — mostly for low-income Medicaid patients with nowhere to go. other.
Democrat Owens Brown, West Virginia’s only black senator, spoke against the bill before it passed the Senate. He said when he looks around at his fellow lawmakers, he sees a body that is mostly made up of white, middle-aged to older men who are middle class or above.
He compared men’s groups passing legislation that largely affects women to laws that were passed by white lawmakers when slavery was legal in the US. He said that “all laws are not good man-made laws”.
“It’s kind of irrational in a lot of ways to be able to enforce a law that will never apply to you,” he said. “It’s easy for you to sit there and do it because you’ll never have to face the consequences of your actions.”