First Pro-Life Law after Dobbs Ruling Nears Passage in W. Va.
On Friday afternoon, the West Virginia Senate will hear the third and final reading of H.R. 302, a bill to clarify and amend West Virginia’s abortion laws. Despite loud and disrespectful protests in the state house (abortion activists were well organized), West Virginia’s House of Delegates on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the bill 69-23. Republicans hold the majority in the House of Delegates 78-22, and they hold the majority in the Senate 23-11.
The West Virginia bill, which seems on track to pass quickly into law, likely will be the first pro-life law passed anywhere in the nation after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overruled Roe v. Wade. It may be “pipped at the post,” as our English cousins would say, by the Value Them Both Amendment in Kansas, which voters will consider during the August 2 primary election. If it succeeds, that amendment “would state the Kansas Constitution does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.”
West Virginia already has a number of laws that restrict abortion, including a pre-Roe abortion ban and a 20-week abortion ban. However, a state judge blocked enforcement of the pre-Roe abortion ban on July 18, arguing that it conflicts more recent laws “hopelessly conflict with the criminal abortion ban,” and that “in today’s world, it is simply too vague to be applied.”
On Monday, Governor Jim Justice, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican party in 2017, called for lawmakers to “clarify and modernize” the state’s abortion law in a special legislative session.
The legislature has moved quickly. In less than a week, the bill was reviewed by two House committees, read three times in the House, saw a number of amendment votes before final passage in the House, and is now getting a third reading in the Senate.
During a period for public comment on Wednesday, pro-abortion activists filled up many of the 90 spots, spilling their two cents in 45-second increments, though they often ran over time. A 12-year-old girl speculated that, if she were impregnated as a result of rape, she would have to carry the child to term (the House amended the bill to include exceptions for rape and incest). An activist who described herself as a “trans person with a uterus” complained that her rights were being disregarded. A director of an abortion clinic said, “I chose life; I chose my life” when she aborted her unborn child at age 17.
But the legislature was unswayed by the dramatic performance.
“What’s ringing in my ears is not the noise of the people here. It’s the cries of the unborn, tens of thousands of unborn children that are dead today. ... Their blood screams from the ground today that you end this scar on our state, that you remove this curse from this land that was put upon us by a court so long ago,” said State Delegate Brandon Steele. “I am pro-life because I believe every life has value. I’m not pro-life for any other reason. I believe that every life is a gift from God above, regardless of how it came into being or came into existence.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.