The West Virginia legislature is trying to make it harder for poor women in West Virginia to get an abortion.
The proposed new law currently being discussed in the West Virginia House of Delegates severely restricts the number of women eligible for a Medicaid-funded abortion by restricting the procedure to only those deemed “necessary for the preservation of the life of the woman.”
In addition, after a bid to make an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest failed last month, even women who are victims of sexual crimes will not be able to access Medicaid funds.
Federal law also restricts Medicaid-funded abortions — but there are exceptions for rape and incest as well as life endangerment. If this bill passed, West Virginia would join South Dakota in apparently violating federal law by refusing to make rape and incest exceptions.
Thanks to a court order, West Virginia is currently one of 17 states that go above and beyond federal law by using state Medicaid funds to cover all medically necessary abortions. Women often need abortions for health reasons that fall short of life endangerment, and courts have found that psychological health should also be included.
If this new law passes, however, women who are suicidal, addicted to drugs, or whose doctors deem are psychologically unready to give birth can no longer have abortions funded through Medicaid in West Virginia, according to an attorney for the House Committee debating the measure.
Delegate Kayla Kessinger, the bill’s lead sponsor, stressed in an email to the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the point of the bill was to make sure taxpayer money wasn’t being used on “a procedure many West Virginians have a moral and conscientious objection to.”
She also claimed that poor mothers have “many choices when it comes to pregnancy” and could seek out the help of nonprofits and state funds to care for themselves and their child. As for those unable or unwilling to be moms, the state lawmaker also made it clear those women had “choices” too — adoption.
Critics of the restrictive law, however, note that poor women unwilling or unable to care for a child should not be forced to give birth.
“Help the young who don’t want and can’t care for a child that is thrown into their lives,” Rev. Marquita L. Hutchens, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church said during the House Judiciary Hearing on the proposed bill noting how the unwanted pregnancy has a negative impact on the lives of both the mother and child. “Do not beat the poor into the ground, but build them up.”
West Virginia resident Amanda Schwartz also called for lawmakers to look beyond politics to do what was right for all West Virginia women, not just those who object to how their taxpayer dollars are spent.
“This bill’s sole purpose is to score political points with religious conservatives in West Virginia,” she insisted during Monday’s hearing.
She added: “It is wrong and unworthy of West Virginians to use poor women as political pawns for individual gains.”
Yet while Hutchens and Schwartz were just two of the overwhelming number of West Virginians who spoke against the bill on Monday at the hearing, their protests will likely do little to change Republican lawmakers’ minds.
Just last year, the GOP-led legislature easily passed another abortion-restricting law that banned doctors from waiving parental permission for underage girls seeking abortions even in the case of sex abuse and incest.
The West Virginia Senate is also currently considering a separate measure to amend the state Constitution to allow lawmakers to “amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
That Senate bill, which has already passed through committee and has been approved for a full floor vote without much opposition, would make it much easier for the House Medicaid abortion bill to pass into law.
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free is not surprised by the legislature’s push to yet again deny women’s right to choose.
“Here we are again: Another year, another abortion bill,” she said during the hearing. “Hard-line politicians are bent on taking health care away from women. This year, they’ve targeted the poorest women.”
She also noted that if the bill passes it could wind up denying more than just poor women’s reproductive choices: the Medicaid-funded abortion ban could potentially cause the state’s only abortion clinic to shutter for good.