February 17, 2015 — The West Virginia House last week voted 87-12 to approve a bill (HB 2568) that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, the AP/Washington Times reports (Mattise, AP/Washington Times, 2/11). The measure now heads to the state Senate for consideration (McCormick, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, 2/11).
According to the AP/Times, the bill is based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation (AP/Washington Times, 2/11). 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/9).
The bill would allow exceptions to the ban for medical emergencies but not for cases of rape or incest, or if the woman faces severe psychological distress (AP/Washington Times, 2/11).
The bill is similar to a measure (HB 4588) the state Legislature passed last session that would have made it a misdemeanor for a physician to provide an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed the measure last year, saying that it was likely unconstitutional and would restrict pregnant women's health care. He also said he vetoed the bill because the medical community believes that the measure's legal penalties would have intruded on the patient-doctor relationship.
Tomblin said he likely would veto the new bill if it is identical to the one he vetoed last session. However, the state Legislature could override the governor's veto with a simple majority (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/22).
Debate on the Measure
During debate over the measure, state Delegate Lynne Arvon (R) said the bill is not about "whether we should have abortion or not," but about protecting a fetus at that stage of development from pain.
Separately, state Delegate Dave Pethtel (D) said he opposed the bill because he "believe[s] that when a woman has to make one of the most difficult decisions in her life on whether or not to have an abortion, especially in high risk, complicated pregnancies, that decision should [be] between her, her doctor, her family, and her God, not the Government" (West Virginia Public Broadcasting, 2/11).