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W.Va. Senate Democrats complain about speed of abortion bill progress

CHARLESTON — The bill modernizing and clarifying West Virginia’s abortion laws was passed by the House of Delegates on Wednesday, but Democratic members of the state Senate are upset that the bill will be up for passage later today without going to a committee.

When it gaveled in for a brief floor session Thursday morning, the Senate moved House Bill 302, clarifying West Virginia’s abortion laws, to third reading with right to amend.

If no amendments are adopted when senators gavel in at 1 p.m., the bill will go to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice. If the Senate chooses to amend the bill, it will have to go back to the House of Delegates for members there to concur with the Senate’s changes.

HB 302 would ban all abortions beginning at fertilization, except for medical emergencies, a non-medically viable fetus, the instance of a pregnancy when a fetus develops outside the uterus, and in the instance of sexual assault or incest that meet certain requirements. It also makes clear that no woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion performed while modernizing statutes that make it a felony to perform an abortion or attempt to induce an abortion.

State Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is a doctor in his hometown of Madison. Speaking during Thursday’s floor session, Stollings warned that the criminal provisions in HB 302 would make it more difficult for doctors to make medical decisions for their pregnant patients and add to the deficit of medical professionals in the state.

Many of the obstetrician gynecologists in West Virginia are very worried about this, and we as a body need to be concerned about unintended consequences,” Stollings said. “We already have an obstetrician gynecology shortage in West Virginia, and we certainly don’t want to make that worse.”

Stollings read a letter he received from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposing the bill. Stollings also said he has heard from the West Virginia State Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Of particular concern for ACOG was an amendment added to HB 302 by the House on Wednesday that allows for abortion in the instances of sexual assault or incest but only before the 14th week of gestation and only if the crime is reported to law enforcement.

“Most women and girls who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and reproductive coercion do not report the attack or ongoing attacks to law enforcement,” Stollings read from the ACOG letter. “This law would be yet another failure to care for these women and girls from the physician’s perspective.”

State Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday morning. Caputo expressed disappointment that the Senate Republican leadership chose not to send HB 302 to a committee. A motion Wednesday afternoon by Senate Minority Whip Stephen Baldwin to send the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee failed. Caputo directed his remarks to Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

“Your leadership team made a decision not to run this bill through committee … I’m very, very disappointed in that,” Caputo said. “As a layperson, I need to hear from docs. I need to hear from women who went through this for good reasons or bad. I need to hear that to make a good sound decision. But unfortunately, because we’re doing this from the floor, we’re not going to have an opportunity to do that.”

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