State Watch

West Virginia legislature approves abortion ban, headed to governor for signature

AP-John Raby
Abortion rights protesters chant outside of the West Virginia Senate chambers prior to a vote on an abortion bill, Friday, July 29, 2022, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/John Raby)

West Virginia’s legislature approved a sweeping abortion ban on Tuesday, only allowing the procedure in cases of medical emergencies, rape and incest. 

The bill, known as HB 302, will now head to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (R), who called a special session of the legislature in July to “clarify and modernize” the state’s abortion laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

The legislation, which passed in the state Senate 22-7 and passed in the state House 77-17 Tuesday, will go into effect immediately with the governor’s signature, and criminal penalties will be effective 90 days after it is signed. 

The legislation would ban abortion entirely unless a patient who is pregnant was a victim of rape or incest, informed a law enforcement agency and receives the procedure before 8 weeks into the pregnancy. Minors who are victims of rape or incest would have until 14 weeks of pregnancy to get an abortion, if they report it to law enforcement and receive medical treatment from a licensed professional or hospital. 

The bill would also allow abortions for “medical emergencies” and if the fetus is not medically viable. 

It also would permit treatment of ectopic pregnancies, when a fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than the uterine lining, which prevents the pregnancy from being successful. Ectopic pregnancies can be dangerous if not treated. 

West Virginia previously missed an opportunity to pass a ban in late July when members of the Senate and House of Delegates could not agree on Senate-passed amendments, one of which removed criminal penalties for doctors who violate the law, The Associated Press reported

The final text of the bill ultimately removed criminal penalties for medical providers, though they could still lose their license. Anyone other than a licensed professional, including nurses and physician assistants, who perform an abortion could face years in prison. 

West Virginia is the second state to pass an abortion ban following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed a ban into law last month, which will go into effect Thursday. Other states had “trigger bans” in place prior to the ruling.

A judge had blocked West Virginia’s 150-year-old abortion ban in a preliminary injunction in July, but lawmakers were seeking to supersede that in passing this law. 

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a nonprofit working to restrict abortion access, praised the law in a release, saying that it “protects unborn children from the earliest stages of life and throughout pregnancy.” 

“HB 302 is a strong pro-life bill that will protect babies and ensure mothers can get the care they need in the heartbreaking situation of an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or medical emergency – just like every other state with pro-life protections in place,” Caitlin Connors, the southern regional director for the organization, said in the release. 

Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health care, including abortion services, slammed the legislation in a release, saying studies show those who are denied access to an abortion experience “serious” physical and economic consequences. 

“This cruel ban insults West Virginia doctors, endangering their patients’ lives while subjecting them to appalling government surveillance, and threatens to put other medical providers in prison simply for providing health care,” said Alisa Clements, the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Tags abortion ban abortion ban abortion ban exceptions Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization Eric Holcomb Jim Justice Roe v. Wade west virginia West Virginia

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