CHARLESTON (AP) - The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee has advanced a bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks.
The bill was amended to lower violations by those who have or perform an abortion after 20 weeks from a felony with possible jail time to a misdemeanor.
The amendment also provides an exception allowing an induction or abortion if a fetus is not medically viable.
The bill already allowed for termination if a mother's life is at risk or she faced serious medical complications that could permanently impair her bodily functions.
For two medical doctors who spoke against the bill, that exception may not be enough.
Luis Bracero, a high-risk obstetrician at the Charleston Area Medical Center's Women and Children's Hospital, said pregnant women in West Virginia have a higher rate of pregnancy-related deaths. He said pregnancy diminishes women's immune systems and they are at risk of dying from infection.
"The decisions between patients and doctors should not be legislated by you. You do not know the individual story, and medicine is about individualized care," he said.
Dr. David Jude, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Marshall University, said he sees many women who are not in immediate risk of death but who could be without proper care. "At what point are obstetricians to decide if the mom is at risk enough? I don't want to be on call wondering if I am going to get prosecuted if I act to provide appropriate medical care," he said.
Delegate Joe Ellington, an obstetrician and gynecologist and a Republican from Mercer County, told the House the bill calculates 20 weeks from conception while medical doctors calculate weeks from a woman's last menstrual cycle. Despite its language, the bill technically prohibits abortions after 22 weeks, he said.
Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said most states have restrictions set at 24 weeks. He said all court decisions that have been rendered in states that set the cap at 20 weeks have deemed the 20-week mark unconstitutional.
Palumbo moved to amend the bill to change the timeline from 20 weeks after fertilization to 24 weeks from a woman's last menstrual period, but his amendment was voted down.
The bill will now be examined by the Senate judiciary committee.