Governor Justice signs near total abortion ban into law: its deeper implications

The legislation marks a major shift in West Virginia abortion law.
The legislation marks a major shift in West Virginia abortion law.(WTOC)
Published: Sep. 17, 2022 at 12:01 AM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a near total abortion ban into law this Friday.

WTAP spoke with a senator who voted in favor of the legislation and a Planned Parenthood official about the ban’s deeper implications.

House bill 302’s passage marks a major shift in West Virginia abortion law.

Since July, elective abortions have been legal up to 20 weeks.

Now abortions at any stage of pregnancy, with few exceptions, are banned.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s Director of Public Affairs Alisa Clements said of the bill, “..., it is despicable that our lawmakers are negotiating over a person’s fundamental human right.”

Third District Senator Mike Azinger said of the bill, “..., life begins at conception and that’s where God creates life and that we’re going to protect it from that point forward.”

Azinger is happy the bill passed but doesn’t think it goes far enough.

“I believe that a baby can’t help how it’s conceived and a baby that was conceived in rape or incest should be protected also,” he said.

Azinger added, “There’s a lot of wonderful stories of babies conceived in rape and incest that grew up to have wonderful lives.”

Under the adjusted bill, incest and sexual assault are exceptions. However, for adults, the incest and sexual assault exception only exists if the abortion happens within the first eight weeks of pregnancy. For minors that timeframe is stretched to 14 weeks. It also must be reported to law enforcement.

Other exceptions include non-viable fetuses and embryos, ectopic pregnancies, and medical emergencies.

Clements said, “The exceptions in this bill are so limited, they’re so tightly restricted that they are going to be effectively unavailable for the patients who are going to need them.”

The legislation also makes performing an abortion without a medical license or at an unapproved location a crime. Doctors who violate the law may lose their license but will not be charged criminally. Women receiving abortions will not face penalties.

Clements said, “I think the ultimate thing that people need to understand about this bill is the cruelty of it - that they are putting people, their constituents, in very difficult situations.”

Azinger said, “I think that, whenever you protect a baby in the womb, that that’s the antithesis of cruel. That is protecting a baby who is defenseless and innocent.”

Azinger believes the legislation will stop almost all abortions in the state.

“I think that in effect it will close the abortion clinic down in Charleston and West Virginia will be, in essence, an abortion-free state,” he said.

The lone abortion provider in the state is still open but is no longer providing abortions.

Clements worries about the burden this puts on people seeking abortions even if they can travel out of state.

“You could be seeing patients travel hours and hours from home spending more money to get to those states, trying to find childcare, trying to find places to stay because you have to wait to get your procedure…,” she said.

Clements worries even accessing abortions in other states could prove to be a challenge.

She pointed out that those states are going to be dealing with an influx of patients from states with strict abortion laws.

Clements said the closest states with abortion access are Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.

“Planned Parenthood health centers in Virginia and North Carolina have been preparing to receive patients from states that are banning abortion and now West Virginia is one of them,” she said.

Clements is especially worried that the bill bans abortion pills. She worries about a chilling effect, pointing out that these pills can be used for non-abortion-related procedures as well.

“We have instances in other states where pharmacists have reportedly refused to provide mifepristone and misoprostol for other purposes like miscarriage management,” she said.

When asked about fears over banning abortion pills making the medication potentially inaccessible for non-abortion-related procedures Azinger said, “Any legitimate problems like that, if that is indeed a legitimate problem, I don’t know - but we can always go back and fix bills.”

This is not the only major abortion shift happening right now. This week, a Hamilton County judge temporarily blocked Ohio’s abortion law that bans the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This will prohibit the law from being enforced until September 28th.

Also this week, Senator Lindsey Graham proposed federal legislation that would ban abortions after 15 weeks.