West Virginia lawmakers impose 15-week abortion ban

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia lawmakers have tabled a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks – a bill that is almost identical to the Mississippi law, which is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the nation waits right to make a decision later this year in the abortion case that could overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, at least two states – West Virginia and Florida – have introduced bills that reflect the Mississippi.

Both Florida and West Virginia bills would ban abortions after 15 weeks except in a medical emergency or in case of a severe fetal abnormality. None of them would grant exemptions for victims of rape or incest.

Republican Del. Ruth Rowan, the main sponsor of the West Virginia bill, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that West Virginia has a commitment to protecting the unborn as “a Christian state where people care about their families and their children.”

Rowan has two wallet-sized photos with her in the Capitol: One is of her 17-year-old granddaughter, a junior at West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind; the other shows him in an incubator at the hospital when he was born early – in week 28.

When Rowan’s daughter was pregnant, she said, doctors told her daughter the pregnancy would be risky and gave her some options. Among them, they said, she could end her pregnancy. Rowan said the election was clear. Years later, the family is grateful that she decided to keep him.

“He’s our miracle. He’s why I’m so committed to what I’m doing right now,” Rowan said, speaking through tears during an interview on the floor of the house. “Life is precious, and we must respect that.”

Rowan said adoption is always an option for women who do not want to be parents, saying “God has a reason for all our children.”

Like the Mississippi, there is only one facility in West Virginia’s state capital that performs abortions. That’s a drop compared to 2014, when there were five abortion facilities in West Virginia, according to Guttmacher Institute.

Katie Quinonez, executive director of the Women’s Health Center in West Virginia – the state’s only facility currently performing abortions – said the legislation would make abortion harder to access in a state where such access is already severely restricted.

Current law in West Virginia prohibits abortions after 20 weeks and requires women to undergo state-run counseling and wait 24 hours before the procedure is performed. Parents must be notified before a minor has an abortion.

As it is, women have a hard time taking the trip to Charleston to get an abortion within 20 weeks because West Virginia is a rural state with no access to robust public transportation, according to Quinonez. Further restrictions would mean hundreds of people would have to travel out of the state to get abortion care, she said.

“Abortion bans are by default racist, are sexist, are rooted in white supremacy, especially the exploitation of black women and the control of women’s bodies and decisions,” she said.

Quinonez said abortion restrictions fall hardest on people who are “already marginalized by our health care systems.” She cited coloreds, young people, low-income people and people living in rural areas.

“Our legislators should work to expand access to health care for the marginalized people, not take away their health care,” she said.

Quinonez said she had two abortions in West Virginia – one when she went to high school at age 17 and the other at age 22.

During her first pregnancy, she dated an older man who was emotionally violent. She was only able to have her abortion after 15 weeks. She said she had to try to save money from her part-time pizzeria job to pay for the procedure.

“That’s why this 15-week ban is particularly outrageous because I just remember myself as a teenager and how scary it would have been to have been told, ‘Well, you have to travel somewhere outside the state to get the care you need, ” she said. “I knew I would not be a parent.”

West Virginia’s abortion law has approved the House Health Committee and will go to the Judiciary Committee. If it passes the judiciary, it will go to full house.

If Roe v. Wade is overthrown, at least 26 states are expected to have abortion restrictions enacted quickly or adopt new ones, said Kristin Ford, vice president of communications and research for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

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