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W.Va. Senate Passes 20-Week Ban

February 26, 2015 — The West Virginia Senate on Wednesday voted 29-5 to approve a bill (HB 2568) that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, West Virginia MetroNews reports (Kercheval, West Virginia MetroNews, 2/25). The state House approved the bill earlier this month.

After Wednesday's Senate vote, the bill went back to the House for final approval of a title amendment. It now heads to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D), who has five days to take action on the measure, not including Sundays (West Virginia State Journal, 2/25).

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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/17). According to the Gazette, physicians who violate the measure would not face any criminal penalties, but they could have their medical licenses suspended or revoked.

Amendments Rejected

The state Senate on Wednesday also rejected two amendments to the bill.

According to the Charleston Gazette, the Senate voted 28-6 to reject an amendment that would have made the ban apply when the fetus is viable, or around 24 weeks.

State Sen. Corey Palumbo (D) proposed the viability amendment. "The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear [that] states may not prohibit abortion prior to viability," Palumbo said, adding, "We all have taken an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution, and if we don't support this amendment, this bill is unconstitutional."

In addition, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have allowed exceptions to the ban in cases of rape or incest. State Sen. Herb Snyder (D), who proposed the amendment, said, "[I]f these two criminal issues are irrelevant, it is a very low day for any legislative body" (Kabler, Charleston Gazette, 2/25).

Prospects for Becoming Law

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed a similar 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/17).

According to the West Virginia MetroNews, Tomblin has not indicated whether his stance on the measure has changed (West Virginia MetroNews, 2/25).

The Gazette reports that state lawmakers still have enough time in the legislative session to potentially override a possible veto from Tomlin (Charleston Gazette, 2/25). Overriding a veto requires a simple majority in both chambers. According to the MetroNews, support for bill is likely to pass that threshold (West Virginia MetroNews, 2/25).