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House passes 20-week abortion ban

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation that would make it a felony to perform abortions on fetuses after 20 weeks' gestation passed an emotionally charged House of Delegates late Tuesday evening on a 79-17 vote.

The passage vote followed a lengthy, emotional debate on the bill (HB4588).

That included comments from Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, saying the Legislature does not have the right to tell her or any other woman what rights she has with her body.

"All of you should be ashamed of yourselves for bringing this bill to the floor of the House," she said.

Several delegates suggested the legislation is unconstitutional.

"Constitutionality issues haven't slowed us up in the past on any number of issues," Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, said. Ireland said the bill is about what its title, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, suggested the legislation is also politically motivated.

"I predict they'll be about 20 red lights on the board, and then the attack ads will come out," Caputo said, saying in past elections, he has been targeted by anti-abortion groups as being a baby-killer for supporting legislation permitting abortions.

Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, called on delegates to vote their conscience, and said his conscience and religion requires him to vote against abortion.  

In a rare move, Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, demanded the bill be read in its entirety.

"Fifty-three percent of the people in this state who are women deserve for you to know exactly what you're voting for," Poore told delegates afterward.

"You had a chance to hear the bill verbatim, and you walked out on 53 percent of the people in this state," Poore added, referring to delegates who left House chambers while the bill was being read.

She said the legislation is "trampling on the rights of women."

The bill was amended Tuesday to set the sentence for doctors convicted of performing abortions after 20 weeks at one to five years in prison. The bill originally set an indeterminate sentence of not less than one year in prison.

The bill goes to the Senate, where indications are it is likely to have difficulty going through the committee process and reaching passage stage on the Senate floor with only 11 days remaining in the legislative session.

A statement from WV Free, an abortion rights group, called the bill "dangerous." The group said that according to the Center for the Disease Control and Prevention, there were seven abortions performed after 20 weeks in West Virginia in 2010.

"Excessive and unnecessary restrictions on abortion care hurt not just women but the practice of medicine," Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, said in the statement. "Every pregnancy is different and we cannot presume to know all of the circumstances surrounding a personal, medical decision to have an abortion.

"A woman and her physician should be trusted," she said. " It is a sad day in West Virginia when our political leaders are playing doctor."

The action came the same day a House committee in South Carolina advanced a similar measure -- one that would limit abortions to 19 weeks. Both bills resemble a law struck down in Arizona that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to reconsider.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220

 


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