CHARLESTON — Despite the wishes of several state lawmakers, the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia will not close its doors after the Legislature passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday.
But for the second time in three months, the health clinic will no longer offer abortion services.
Those who need abortions in West Virginia are urged to visit http://abortionfinder.org to find their nearest clinic and http://abortionfunds.org for assistance paying for the service, including lodging and travel expenses.
For seven years, the clinic has been the sole abortion provider in West Virginia. The last time it halted services in June — which was the first time since it opened its doors nearly 50 years ago — was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
“We provided abortion care for nearly 50 years, and while we have been forced to pause this care right now, we will continue providing the many other essential services we offer,” said Katie Quinonez, executive director of the clinic, in a news release. “We won’t stop fighting for your right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, and we remain committed to providing the care our community needs.”
The ban passed Tuesday was the result of a months-long effort by the Legislature’s Republican supermajority, with help by a handful of Democrats.
It allows limited exemptions for victims of rape or incest to access abortion services; children can receive the service up to 14 weeks of gestation if they make a report to law enforcement or receive treatment from a certified physician, while adults have up to eight weeks and must report the crime to law enforcement.
The bill also limits who can perform abortions to medical doctors or osteopathic practitioners who have admitting privileges to hospitals certified by the state.
Miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths are not considered abortions under the new law, which will be effective from passage but, as of Wednesday evening, has yet to receive Gov. Jim Justice’s signature.
Justice, who has been vocally anti-abortion and who held a bill-signing ceremony in March for a hollow piece of anti-abortion legislation that experts and lawmakers say is largely unenforceable, did not release any public comment Wednesday in response to the Legislature’s passage of the ban.
Instead, he took to social media — where dozens were asking him not to sign House Bill 302 — urging residents to help Babydog choose a new profile picture for an upcoming tourism conference.
In Wednesday’s news release, Quinonez said Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of months of political back-and-forth where the state’s leaders repeatedly “lied to” West Virginians.
“First, Governor Jim Justice told the media he would not add abortion to the July special session agenda. At the last minute, he did so,” Quinonez said. “Senate President Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) told the media (this month) he had no plans to call senators back to discuss the abortion ban. Days later, he quietly did so.”
The process that played out Tuesday was much different from the one promised to the public in July, when the state House of Delegates could not rally enough votes to pass a ban already approved by the Senate that allowed for limited exemptions and stripped criminal penalties for doctors.
After both chambers recessed that month, leaders said a conference committee would be formed to find compromise on the eventual ban. The conference committee, however, was never called. Instead, it seemed lawmakers met behind closed doors to iron out what Blair called on the Senate floor Tuesday “an arrangement” between the Senate and the House.
The new ban replaces an archaic piece of code from 1870 that, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, would have levied felony charges and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone who facilitates or potentially receives an abortion. Those charges will still apply to anyone who is not authorized to perform an abortion or who performs one outside of the parameters set in the new code.
Before the start of July’s failed special session on abortion policy, the West Virginia arm of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of the Women’s Health Center against Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to halt enforcement of the 19th century law.
On July 18, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tera Salango issued an injunction in favor of the Women’s Health Center. While Morrisey’s office filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, where a scheduling order set all case filings in the case due by Jan. 25, it’s unclear how the lawsuit will continue, if at all.
Billy Wolfe, spokesperson for the West Virginia ACLU, said Wednesday it would be “premature” to speak on the lawsuit as the organization’s full legal team has yet to meet to discuss the ramifications of Tuesday’s vote.
In a news release Tuesday, the organization’s head of advocacy Eli Baumwell said it’s “hard to overstate what a terrible day this is for the state of West Virginia.”
“The Legislature chose to strip away a basic human right to choose if, when and how a person becomes a parent,” Baumwell said. “This is a decision that will cruelly and unnecessarily imperil lives and move our state backward.”