W.Va., Other States Take Up Pro-Life Cause after Roe
The West Virginia legislature passed a new abortion ban on Tuesday, the second state to do so after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. The state House of Representatives passed H.B. 302 by a three-to-one margin (69-23) on July 27. The state Senate approved (22-7) an amended version on Tuesday, and the House passed (77-17) the bill with the Senate’s amendments the same day. Governor Jim Justice (R) is expected to sign the bill.
West Virginia’s effort came in response to a legal challenge of the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban, which a state judge ruled on July 18 was too vague and conflicted with more recently passed laws. West Virginia’s pro-life legislature had worked hard to protect unborn life while Roe was still in place, passed several pieces of pro-life legislation that still allowed for some abortion. Among these laws were prohibitions on abortions after the unborn child can feel pain (about 20 weeks gestation) and discriminatory abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of disability.
As a result of this unique, reactive context, the bill lacks a fancy title and largely consists of items to “amend and reenact” previous laws. However, the point of the bill is clear. It states, “An abortion may not be performed or induced or be attempted to be performed or induced unless in the reasonable medical judgment of a licensed medical professional: (1) The embryo or fetus is nonviable; (2) The pregnancy is ectopic; or (3) A medical emergency exists.” It contains an eight-week exception for rape (14 weeks for minors), provided that the crime was reported to law enforcement.
West Virginia is the second state to successfully enact a pro-life measure since the Dobbs decision overruled Roe v. Wade in June. The Indiana legislature passed an abortion ban in early August which went into effect on Thursday, and has already been challenged in court (ironically, a heartbeat bill in neighboring Ohio was blocked in court, also on Thursday).
“After 49 years,” the Supreme Court basically said that “abortion through nine months of pregnancy for any reason was no longer acceptable,” said FRC President Tony Perkins. “Now this debate is taking place at the state level. And … a lot of people in the political realm are kind of defensive because polling would suggest to some on the other side of this issue that they have an advantage.”
Indeed, Kansas voters recently rejected a pro-life ballot measure, and some Republican strategists have extrapolated from that defeat an excuse to avoid the life issue. But the Kansas incident was an outlier, argued abortion survivor and pro-life activist Melissa Ohden, due largely to “so much misinformation and outright lies told by the abortion industry. And we were outspent probably at least two-to-one.”
Every state and local jurisdiction has its own flavor of politics. “Pay attention to what happens locally,” Ohden urged. “We as the voters need to ask our elected officials” where they stand. That’s particularly true of pro-abortion politicians. “The media wants to go after pro-lifers and say … ‘you want to take away this or take away that,’” said Perkins. “There’s no discussion about where those that promote abortion in this country will draw the line.” He argued that those pushing for unlimited abortion through all nine months of pregnancy are the true extremists — out of step with American voters and with the rest of the world.
Consequently, state efforts to improve the newly restored power to regulate or ban abortion are just warming up. According to FRC’s research, 19 states protect life at conception, four states protect life at a heartbeat (six weeks), seven states protect life at some other gestational limit (from 15-24 weeks), but 20 states still allow abortions through all nine months of pregnancy. Pro-life leaders from Georgia, Idaho, and South Carolina convened at FRC’s Pray Vote Stand Summit in Atlanta Georgia to explain what comes next for the pro-life movement in their states.
“A lot of people believed, after Roe fell, that that was it … like, okay, well, we’re pro-life now,” said South Carolina State Senator Josh Kimbrell. But “really the battle has just begun. All we did was press ‘reset’ to where we were 50 years ago.” Like West Virginia and now Ohio, South Carolina had broad protections for the unborn, only to see them fall in court. The state’s supreme court, which Kimbrell said lists to the left, stayed the state’s heartbeat bill “saying in 1974 a Democratic legislature had … codified the Roe decision.” The state was back at square one. “It’s not a flip of the switch where instantaneously we go back to this pro-life nation,” agreed Connor Semelsberger, FRC’s director of Federal Affairs for Life and Human Dignity. “It’s going to take work.”
South Carolina is one state where there is plenty of work to do. Semelsberger described it as “currently in a legislative battle over the life issue.” Kimbrell explained, the legislature “struck [the 1974 language] out last week,” with the governor expected to sign. “But now the fight will be, how do we go … all the way to conception with very narrow exceptions? … That’s going to be the rest of the year for me — and probably the next two years.” Some battles are over in a day. Others become a whole campaign. On that note, Kimbrell exhorted state legislators to pursue politically sensible pro-life policies. “We spent 50 years to get to where we are right now. We don’t want to blow it in 50 weeks,” he counseled. “The discussion needs to be, how do we move the ball down the field right now? … Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
Some pro-abortion radicals have taken the warfare metaphor literally. When the South Carolina Senate voted to prevent taxpayer funds from funding abortion, Kimbrell said it “led to riots.” Back in June, a “state law enforcement division in SWAT gear” was “holding the doors to the Senate closed to keep the rioters from storming the floor,” he said. And his wife “was chased down by a pro-abortion radical in a car.” This followed months of firebombing, vandalism, and threats against pro-life centers and churches. As recently as Wednesday, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) invoked a “literally [sic] call to arms in our country” against pro-lifers.
Meanwhile, neighboring Georgia is no stranger to attacks from corporations and partisans on the left. “Georgia is a very difficult state,” admitted Cole Muzio, president of the Frontline Policy Council of Georgia. “We have Hollywood here. We’ve got big business here. And they don’t like our issues. They did not want the governor to stand for life, but he did.” Before Roe was overturned, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) led the legislature to pass a heartbeat bill, which has now taken effect in Georgia. Muzio hopes the state can go even further, but “realistically, moving from heartbeat [six weeks] to zero [weeks] is going to be a very difficult battle.”
To press the issue, Georgia legislators are adopting creative approaches that affirm the life of the unborn. Muzio described one house bill that “recognizes the fundamental truth [that] life begins at conception,” throughout the code. So, it would allow a pregnant woman to claim her unborn child as a dependent on her taxes. It would allow her to begin claiming child support before birth. It would allow her to drive in an HOV lane, with the child counting as the vehicle’s second occupant. “Democrats in committee … were offering amendments to rip those provisions out of the bill,” Muzio described, relating how they were willing to work against pregnant women if it meant not having to recognize the personhood of their unborn child.
But even if a state completely bans abortion, the work doesn’t end there, said Brandi Swindell, founder and CEO of Stanton Health Care, which locates pro-life pregnancy resource centers near abortion clinics. Swindell is based in Idaho, which had a trigger law to ban abortion if Roe was overturned. “We are abortion free,” declared Swindell. “In the state of Idaho, Planned Parenthood parking lots are empty right now. And in fact, the Boise Planned Parenthood closed in response to Roe being overturned.” But “women are still going to be facing unexpected pregnancies,” she added, so “we have to work as a society to make abortion unthinkable,” which involves caring for the mother and her child, supporting pregnancy resource centers with time and money, and promoting adoption.
The abortion industry is still aggressive, Swindell warned. She described how Planned Parenthood “would try to lure women across state lines so that they could have abortions,” advising them to drive into Oregon to receive instructions from their car on how to obtain chemical abortion pills from a drop site. “It’s not really about standing with women. It’s [that] they want women to choose abortion. They want to sell abortions,” she insisted.
This November, elections could have an impact on abortion laws in all 50 states — with some states pushing to expand abortion even further. Those elections could be decided by a relatively small number of votes. Muzio reminded listeners that, in 2018, the pro-life Georgia governor won election by barely 50,000 votes out of nearly 4 million cast. “The state representative that authored” the heartbeat bill “won by 272 votes.”
“You have to go vote,” urged Muzio. “November 8th is the most critical day for pro-life empowerment that we’ve ever had in this country. So, make sure you seize that opportunity.”
“It’s not the end; it’s simply the beginning of working to shape these laws,” Tony Perkins said.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.