W.Va. Lawmakers Override Veto of 20-Week Abortion Ban, Allowing Bill To Become Law

March 9, 2015 — A West Virginia bill (HB 2568) banning abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy is set to take effect on May 26 after the state Senate on Friday voted 27-5 to override the governor's veto of the legislation, Reuters reports (Daley, Reuters, 3/6).

The state House on Wednesday voted 77-16 to override the veto.

Bill Details and Background

The law 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 law will 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.

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. 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.

However, 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" (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/4).


State Senate President Bill Cole (R) said Friday that the chamber had "advice from the [state] attorney general that he felt [the bill] was constitutional and he could defend it. I frankly hope we don't have to try that out in court, but we'll see" (Mattise, AP/Charleston Daily Mail, 3/6).

Meanwhile, Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup said that "Tomblin was right to veto this callous, cruel and unconstitutional attack on health care for women facing complicated and sometimes dangerous situations in their lives and pregnancies." She added that the veto override shows "how far" some legislators "are willing to go to advance their ideological agenda at the expense of women's rights, lives and safety" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 3/6).