W.Va. advances 20-week abortion ban

Pro-choice activists demonstrate during March for Life Fund's 37th annual march in Washington
Pro-choice activists demonstrate during March for Life Fund's 37th annual march in Washington January 22, 2010.
West Virginia's legislature wrapped up its work for the year over the weekend, but not before approving a 20-week abortion ban.

An ongoing emotional debate on legislation to ban abortions of fetuses after 20 weeks gestation (HB4588) reached a crescendo in the Senate with a 29-5 passage vote on the controversial measure. Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, who had demanded the bill be read in its entirety prior to the vote, admonished his colleagues for passing what many believe is unconstitutional legislation, saying the state will never move ahead so long as legislators are beholden to special interests. "We want to focus on gays, abortion and guns, and I have to wonder when that's going to change," he said, adding, "We will never get past 50th if we worry more about the next election than the next generation."

Soon after, the state House approved the same bill, 83 to 15. There was no debate -- House leaders said members needed to vote on a variety of bills on Saturday night, so there wouldn't be enough time for lawmakers to address the subject before voting on it.
While 20-week bans have become a common proposal for opponents of reproductive rights, West Virginia is somewhat unique in the larger context -- this is the first state legislature with Democratic majorities to pass the bill. It's worth noting, however, that West Virginia Democrats are often well to the right of the party's mainstream.
The bill now goes to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) whose signature is hardly guaranteed. "The abortion bill obviously is one that causes me some concern because even the legislative attorneys and others said they feel this bill is unconstitutional," he said. "I'll be looking at all aspects of it once I receive the bill."
In case anyone needs a refresher, 20-week abortion bans may not seem like a huge deal. As we've discussed, this proposal may not seem as offensive as, say, mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds that women neither want nor need.
But Andrew Rosenthal had a good piece on this a while back.

The way the Catholic Association mentions “late-term” abortions, you might think the only women who had them were lazy and callous, just waiting around until the last second for no good reason.

But as Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, told me in an email, nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks; abortions later on often involve rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health. In many cases, women are facing the need to terminate a desired pregnancy, not an unwanted one.

Ms. Richards cited the case of a woman in Nebraska, Danielle Deaver, whose water broke at 22 weeks, depriving her baby of most of the amniotic fluid. “Her doctor told her that the fetus could not develop or survive,” Ms. Richards said. “Despite this, she was forced to live through 10 excruciating days waiting to give birth, because her doctors feared prosecution under her state’s 20-week abortion ban.”

It’s exactly why medical associations consider these measures so dangerous. Last July, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published a letter, urging state lawmakers to “get out of exam rooms.”