CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Lawmakers in West Virginia missed a chance to become the first state to pass new legislation restricting access to abortion since A decision by the US Supreme Court last month stripped it of its protected status as a constitutional right.
The Republican-dominated Senate passed its version of the bill along with amendments, one of which would decriminalize doctors who perform illegal abortions. Late Friday night, the House of Delegates, which passed his bill Wednesday declined to agree to the Senate amendments, instead asking for a conference committee to iron out differences between the bills.
Both houses then adjourned until next month.
Several GOP-led states enacted abortion bans ahead of the court’s ruling, but lawmakers in West Virginia are taking action amid legal uncertainty over whether the 1800s ban repealed by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision can be enforced now.
As in other states dominated by socially conservative lawmakers, there is little question of whether abortions will be banned altogether now that states have the power to do so, but whether the ban will extend to pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
South Carolina has a blanket ban. In Arkansas, outgoing GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson would have preferred to add them to the ban already in place, but he declined to ask lawmakers to consider the issue in a special session.
A loud example of a A 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio, a state without a rape exemption in its abortion restrictions, who traveled to Indiana for an abortion has fueled the debate.
Tensions over the issue engulfed the Indiana Senate in a session that began Thursday and finally ended after midnight. A final vote on the bill, which includes exemptions for rape and incest, is expected to take place on Saturday.
West Virginia accountwhich some lawmakers have complained has not been vetted by any Senate committees, bans abortion except in cases of rape or incest.
The Senate approved an amendment initiated by a physician, Kanawha County Republican Tom Takuba, that would eliminate a criminal penalty of three to 10 years upon conviction for any health care provider who performs an abortion.
Takuba said the bill would already subject a doctor to severe license loss for performing an illegal abortion. He also said West Virginia already has health care worker retention problems, and if the criminal penalty goes ahead, it could have a dire effect on the practice.
Another approved amendment, proposed by Greenbrier County Democrat Stephen Baldwin, would allow minors to report rape to someone covered by the mandate of an “authorized reporter,” such as a pastor or school counselor, who would then report the case to authorities. The House version calls for direct appeals to law enforcement.
This measure allows the release of victims of rape and incest up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The bill also provides other exceptions for an ectopic pregnancy, a “medically non-viable fetus,” or a medical emergency that could result in death or serious and permanent injury.
A dozen of the 34 senators gave impassioned speeches before the 21-10 vote. Three senators were absent. Some of those who said they supported the bill also said they were not happy with it. Some Republicans wanted a complete ban on abortion. Others wanted the restoration of criminal liability for doctors.
The state’s only abortion clinic initially stopped offering abortions after the latest ruling, but reopened this month as it launched a legal challenge over whether the old ban applies. July 18 Charleston Judge barred the state from enforcing the banruling that it was superseded by a host of controversial modern laws such as the ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called a special session of the Legislature to consider the abortion ban. He did not indicate whether he would sign either bill, and the governor’s office did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.
On Friday, people sitting in the packed galleries above the Senate chamber shouted “shame on you” as the afternoon session adjourned almost as soon as it had begun.
When debate finally began hours later, Democrats complained that they didn’t have a final version of the Senate bill before the start of the session on Friday, which would have included a dozen amendments.
“It’s a train wreck in slow motion,” said Senate Democratic Leader Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County. “This bill puts doctors in jail for doing their job and keeping their oath.”
In Indiana, there was a nearly four-hour delay in the Senate session on Thursday as lawmakers met privately to discuss the exemptions, which ultimately remained over strong objections from some conservative lawmakers.
“The exceptions are for the death of innocent unborn children,” said Sen. Mike Young, a Republican who filed the amendment to allow abortions only to protect the life of the mother.
Eighteen Republicans ended up voting with 10 Democrats to keep the rape and incest exemptions in the proposal. But the votes of many Republicans who voted to repeal the exemptions will be needed for the bill to advance in the House. If that’s not enough, abortion will remain legal in the state for now.
The final vote there is expected on Saturday.
Although legislative battles over abortion have begun, much of the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision has reverberated through the judicial system. A near-total ban began in Louisiana, but was halted by a judge earlier this month. On Friday, a judge ruled that enforcement could resume — though it was unclear when.