CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate passed a resolution that would propose a constitutional amendment to say nothing in the state constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires funding of an abortion.
The Senate took up Senate Joint Resolution 12 in its Friday floor session. The resolution passed in a 25-9 vote with Democrats Roman Prezioso, of Marion County; John Unger, of Berkeley County; and Mike Woelfel, of Cabell County, joining Republicans in voting for the amendment.
After the vote, people in the galleries stood up and yelled “shame” and “shame on you.” Senate President Mitch Carmichael banged the gavel, asking doorkeepers to escort them out of the galleries as they said, “shame.”
The resolution goes to the House of Delegates where it must get approval from two-thirds of the members. If passed it is then submitted to voters in this year’s general election.
Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, talked before the vote of the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest. He said current state law does have exceptions of rape, incest or saving the life of a mother.
“What SJR 12 would do is lay before citizens of this state the question for their ratification of whether or not our constitution does indeed or will continue to secure right to abortion or require funding of abortions,” he said.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said he has concerns about the Legislature changing statute.
“What’s in place in statute could easily be changed next year,” he said. “There is a bill in the House that does change this. Without having three branches of government look at it, I’m concerned about this.”
Stollings referred to House Bill 4012, which is sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette. It changes the definition of essential medical services covered under Medicaid to exclude abortions, induced miscarriages or premature births, unless the procedures are necessary to preserve the life of the woman seeking treatment, in induced premature births intended to produce a viable child, and if the procedure is necessary for the health of the mother or the child.
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, disagreed that the resolution put women’s lives in danger.
“It’s well-known I have pro-life feelings,” he said. “And when I hear that, I feel it’s directed at me. As strongly as I feel about the question about protecting the unborn, I would never support legislation to require a mother to die or be at great risk of death. ... I don’t think anything in this resolution makes that requirement.”
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, voted against the resolution. He said as a Catholic he is opposed to abortion for his family. However, he called the resolution politically motivated.
“I appreciate saying that nothing in the bill prevents statute from protecting the right to terminate a pregnancy when life is at risk or in cases or rape and incest but I bet if the bill comes across from the House doesn’t end that for women who depend on Medicaid, then it will be ended as soon as possible next year.”
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, who voted against the resolution, said he hasn’t slept well all week because of the resolution and said it was the hardest vote he’s ever cast.
“In the end, I voted no because there’s no provision (in this resolution) for the life of the mother, rape or incest. I supported an amendment to add that yesterday, but it failed. If that had been added, I would have voted for this.”
Baldwin referenced an amendment offered by Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, in Thursday’s floor session which excluded cases of incest or rape or when it is medically necessary to save the woman’s life. His amendment failed in a 7-20 vote. Trump said Palumbo’s amendment would have reversed the effect of the resolution and that his amendment was unnecessary because state code currently outlines limitations on restrictions.
Baldwin said he has concerns with the bill as it passed out of the Senate.
“This resolution leaves it up to the Legislature entirely. If it passes at the ballot, the Legislature can regulate women’s health care however they want,” Baldwin said. “My grandfather was an OB/GYN, and I think he would be horrified that politicians would get between him and his patients. I don’t know any West Virginians who think we shouldn’t protect the life of the mother. Since this resolution didn’t include that, I couldn’t support it. If this does go to the ballot, it’s time to have a serious dialogue as a state.”
Several advocacy groups issued statements following Friday’s vote. Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free, condemned the resolution.
“This vote shows that for certain hardline West Virginia politicians, advancing their ideological agenda is more important than a woman’s health or her family’s economic security,” Pomponio said. “The West Virginia constitution protects all our rights — but these lawmakers are taking the radical stance that would change it to take health care decisions away from low-income women. West Virginians want good jobs and healthy families, not more attacks on women’s health coverage.”
West Virginians for Life also released a statement following the passage.
“A woman can still get an abortion in West Virginia for any reason,” President Wanda Franz said in the release. “A woman has always been able to get an abortion to save her life, even before Roe. v. Wade in 1973. It is a lie to say that women will die because of SJR 12.”
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