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Kathie Giltinan: Abortion restrictions would endanger women

By Kathie Giltinan

House Bill 4588, the proposed ban on abortions at 20 weeks, is an anti-choice extremist proposal that is out of line with what the majority of West Virginians want. It is dangerous for West Virginia women, could make criminals of their doctors and is unlikely to withstand a test of constitutionality should it become law. I am upset our Legislature not only wastes time and money with it, but they may actually pass it.

The thought process and priority system of this Legislature seem bizarre to me. Following the contamination of water in nine counties, Delegate John Pinto, D-Fayette, was one in a group speaking out against regulation aimed at safeguarding the water supply. Your paper quoted him as saying, "We think we can micromanage things and tell others how to do their jobs. No one has more experience than industry when it comes to handling these tanks." Yet these same anti-regulation representatives want to regulate a woman's intimate, private health decisions. These representatives, rather than professional boards, would regulate how doctors treat their patients.

Regulations in HB 4588 would endanger women.

This bill is based on pseudoscience that has been refuted by The Journal of the American Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Although the research claims in HB 4588 are scientifically dubious, they have strong emotional appeal. Will lawmakers prefer to believe a good story rather than good science? Should we allow them to build healthcare legislation on such a shaky foundation?

A poll released this week shows 62 percent are against the 20-week ban. HB 4588 does not reflect the will of the people. It represents a willful minority. If this becomes law, our state motto will have to be changed. We could paraphrase Delegate Meshea Poore's suggestion, "Mountaineers are always free - unless they have a uterus."

When a woman considers abortion after 20 weeks, it is for dire medical reasons, and it is rare. Often, the diagnostic procedures that reveal fetal abnormalities cannot be conducted until about that time. This month's Texas Observer tells of a couple who very much wanted their child. At 19 and a half weeks, just before Christmas, they had an ultrasound to find out whether to hang a pink or blue Christmas stocking. Sadly, they found that their baby had a horrible anomaly and would not live long beyond birth. Once the mother accepted that, she wanted to prevent its suffering. However, Texas had just passed a law like HB 4588 that would force her to continue her pregnancy and give birth to a child unable to survive.

That Texas woman's physician was so frightened of criminal penalties that he had to deny the preferred medical procedure. At the same time he had to advise the shocked and grief-stricken couple during the chaotic first days of the new law. Doctors and women deserve more respect from West Virginia lawmakers. Politicians do not have any business preempting a physician's medical decisions. Politicians certainly do not have any business forcing women to bear tragically, usually fatally malformed children.

This bill is nothing more than a cruel attempt to erode reproductive freedom. But 20-week bans have repeatedly been found unconstitutional. If this becomes law, it will be challenged and it will be overturned. That is inevitable and it will be expensive. What a painful waste for West Virginia taxpayers. Last year, Gov. Beebe of Arkansas vetoed a 20-week ban because the state, when it lost a constitutional challenge, would have to pay all the costs and attorney fees of the challengers.

Passage of this bill will cause plenty of pain. Women will suffer. Doctors who must obey the law will suffer. And the simple cause of justice will suffer. I hope you will join me in urging our Legislature to keep HB 4588 from passing. Urge Gov. Tomblin to veto it if it does become law.

Giltinan lives in Charleston.


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