March 4, 2015 — The West Virginia House on Wednesday morning voted 77-16 to override a veto of a bill (HB 2568) that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, the West Virginia State Journal reports. The bill now heads to the state Senate for an override attempt (Cardosi, West Virginia State Journal, 3/4).
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed the bill on Tuesday, marking the second year in a row that he has rejected such legislation (Kabler, Charleston Gazette, 3/3).
Bill Details and Background
Tomblin said in a statement that he vetoed the measure on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade said that states cannot ban abortion before fetal viability, which is considered around 24 weeks of pregnancy (Bassett, Huffington Post, 3/3).
"At the start of the regular session, I urged members of the Legislature to consider a compromise that would help us establish legislation that would pass constitutional muster," Tomblin said in the veto message, adding, "Having received a substantially similar bill to the one vetoed last year on constitutional grounds, I must veto House Bill 2568" (Charleston Gazette, 3/3).
The bill is based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that there is no legitimate scientific evidence showing that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks.
The bill would allow exceptions to the ban for medical emergencies but not for instances when the woman faces severe psychological distress. Physicians who violate the measure would not face any criminal penalties, but they could have their medical licenses suspended or revoked (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/26).
Veto Override Effort
According to the State Journal, the state Legislature has two days after a veto to attempt to override it (West Virginia State Journal, 3/4).
An override requires a simple majority vote in both chambers. The bill passed the state House 87-21 and the state Senate 29-5 earlier this year (Charleston Gazette, 3/3).
State House Speaker Tim Armstead (R) said he was "disappointed" that Tomblin vetoed the bill. Armstead added that he "believe[s] the legislation is constitutionally sound and represents the right public policy in our state" (West Virginia State Journal, 3/4).
However, WV Free Executive Director Margaret Chapman Pomponio said the governor made the right decision. She noted that veto override could set the stage for a costly legal battle over the legislation, adding, "The idea of dragging taxpayers through an unconstitutional fight is unthinkable" (Charleston Gazette, 3/3).
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Vice President Melissa Reed said, "The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens in complex circumstances where a wanted pregnancy has gone tragically wrong," adding, "These are the kind of situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available" (Huffington Post, 3/3).
Meanwhile, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) said in a statement Tuesday that he would defend the measure if it is challenged in court. "It is long-past time that limits are placed on abortions in West Virginia," he said, adding, "While no one can predict with certainty how a court will rule, I believe that there are strong, good-faith arguments that this legislation is constitutional and should be upheld by the courts" (Charleston Gazette, 3/3).