CHARLESTON - Local lawmakers are disappointed in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's veto of a bill that would have called for a stop to abortions at 22 weeks.
On Friday, Tomblin vetoed HB 4588, also known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill originally passed the House of Delegates 79-17 and the West Virginia Senate 29-5 with large bi-partisan support.
The purpose of this bill is to protect unborn children who are capable of experiencing pain by prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization except when the mother has a medical emergency.
Tomblin, in a statement issued Friday, said he was advised, by not only attorneys from the legislature, but through his own legal team, that the bill was unconstitutional. The bill was problematic because it unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship.
Tomblin said all patients require the best, most unfettered medical judgment and advice regarding treatment options. The criminal penalties the bill imposed would impede that advice to the detriment of the health and safety of the patient, he added.
Tomblin was applauded by some and criticized by others for his decision.
"Abortion is a deeply personal, often complex decision for a woman to make in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith, and we cannot make that decision for her," said Melissa Reed, VP for Public Affairs with Planned Parenthood Health Systems. "We are not in her shoes.
"We commend Governor Tomblin for taking a principled stand and vetoing HB 4588 which is an unconstitutional and cruel measure."
Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said in a statement that he was very surprised by Tomblin's veto.
"For most West Virginians this is bitter news, especially on the heels of the Governor's use of his ability to veto budgeted items to cut benefits to poor children and families in West Virginia," he said. "The Governor's veto does not reflect the majority opinion of the state legislature, who worked hard this session to do more to help children in poverty and protect life, particularly unborn children."
The bill received support from all of Wood County's delegates and state senators.
Del. Tom Azinger, R-Wood, said he was disappointed in the governor's veto.
"I thought he should have signed and then let the courts decide if it was unconstitutional or not," he said. "That is what I would have done.
"I was disappointed. We worked for several years to get that passed."
Azinger believes the votes are in place to override the veto, but the governor would have to call a special session with that issue specifically placed on the agenda to be dealt with.
"I don't see him doing that," Azinger said. "However, the votes would be there to override it."
Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood, described the veto as being "part of the legislative process," even though the bill had strong support in both houses.
"It was the governor's prerogative," Anderson said of the veto, adding "I am a bit disappointed."
Anderson said the legislature has the ability to call itself into a special session after circulating a petition to do so with the majority of both houses agreeing to do so. However, he does not support that move.
"It would cost the taxpayers," he said.
Any special session called would have to remain in session to pass the bill again, wait up to 10 days for the governor to take action and then deal with a potential override. In a year where lawmakers had a lot of work in balancing the budget, Anderson did not want to add to that expense.
The alternative would be to wait and reintroduce the bill again at the beginning of the 2015 session, he said. If the votes are still in place that passed it this session, lawmakers could pass it again early in the session, allow the governor to take whatever action he wanted and deal with a possible veto override in the course of the regular session without any additional expense to the taxpayers, Anderson said.
State Sen. David Nohe said he would vote to return to vote on the bill again because he feels it is that important.
"I was extremely disappointed," Nohe said of the governor's veto. "This is probably the one bill I worked the hardest on during this last session.
"It almost died a couple of times, but we continued to work on it and got it through."
West Virginia is one of nine states that does not have some kind of abortion bill limiting abortions in place. Nohe thought the bill would put West Virginia on more equal footing with other states.
Lawmakers heard the arguments about protecting both the health of the mother and child and Nohe felt they addressed those concerns in the bill that was passed.
So far, no one has called him about returning for a special session to deal with this issue, but he is open to the idea.
"This was a good bill," he said.