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Dems: Abortion access question should be put to W.Va. voters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Democrats want voters to be able to decide whether abortion should continue to be allowed in the state.

The call comes after residents in Kansas, another state with a GOP-controlled Legislature, rejected a ballot measure earlier this month that would have allowed lawmakers to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright.

The West Virginia Republican party recently failed to pass legislation criminalizing abortion during a special session initiated by Republican Gov. Jim Justice late last month.

During the session, West Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a sweeping abortion ban that would have made providing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The measure included exceptions for victims of rape and incest, as well as for medical emergencies, but failed to move forward in the Senate.

Democratic leadership on Friday asked Justice and the state’s GOP leadership to call lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider a resolution to let the people vote on a constitutional amendment for “reproductive freedom.”

“The legislature had its chance to clarify the laws and failed,” Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin said in a press release. “The session was a slow-motion train wreck that spectacularly went off the rails. Compassion and common sense are in short supply in the capitol right now, so let’s put it before the people to decide.”

Justice did not respond publicly to Democrats’ request Friday and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff said that in the past, the Legislature has approved ballot measures dealing with gambling, Sunday hunting and taxation.

“Why should the deeply personal issue of abortion be any different?” he said. “There are half a million women in our state, and they should have a voice on this issue.”

Abortion had been banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy in West Virginia until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion. After that ruling, the state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said abortion was banned in the state because of an 1800s-era law that had been unenforceable while abortion was federally protected.

But a Charleston judge barred the state from enforcing the ban, ruling it had been superseded by a slew of conflicting modern laws like the 20-week ban. Morrisey has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to take up the case this fall.

In 2018, West Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment saying that nothing in the state Constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

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