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Morrisey sees progress on vaccine mandate, abortion cases

CHARLESTON — It was a busy couple of days for the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, with a federal court putting a halt to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in an abortion rights case.

In a statement Wednesday following oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case challenging Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, Morrisey called on the high court to uphold Mississippi’s law.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade protects a woman’s right to abortion services and limits the ability of states to ban abortions prior to 23 weeks. Another decision in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, upheld the earlier Roe v. Wade decision and prohibits states from banning abortions before the viability of the fetus can be determined.

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, opponents challenged a 2018 law passed in Mississippi that banned abortions prior to 15 weeks except in specific circumstances. West Virginia was one of 24 states that filed briefs in support of the Mississippi law.

“It is long past time to overturn the flawed Supreme Court decisions that have led to the tragic deaths of over 60 million unborn children,” Morrisey said. “Our Constitution should never have been interpreted in a way that lets it override the states’ compelling interest to protect innocent life. I am proud to join with Mississippi and other voices who are advocating for the sanctity of human life.”

Depending on how the Supreme Court’s conservative majority rules, it could issue a narrow ruling overturning the Mississippi law but maintaining the court’s earlier decision in Roe v. Wade, or the court could completely overturn Roe v. Wade, returning the power to states to limit or ban abortions.

Multiple groups, including the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU and women’s reproductive rights organization WV FREE, spoke out Wednesday against a possible Supreme Court ruling that would strike down Roe v. Wade and raised concerns about stricter abortion laws in West Virginia’s future.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our reproductive rights hang in the balance,” said Margaret Chapman-Pomponio, CEO of WV FREE. “At the same time, there are extremist politicians in the West Virginia Legislature who are bent on passing cruel … abortion bans that would be devastating to West Virginians.”

West Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 that added new language to the West Virginia Constitution: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” West Virginia law already prohibits abortions after the 20-week mark and the state’s only abortion provider doesn’t conduct abortions after the 16th week.

“If the state of Mississippi succeeds … it is a matter of when, not if, other states across the country will pass their own legislation to make abortion inaccessible, policy that will affect marginalized communities more than any others,” said Loree Stark, legal director for the ACLU-WV.

In 2020, the West Virginia Legislature passed House Bill 4007, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, requiring doctors to use their best medical judgment to protect the life of a fetus if it shows signs of breathing or a heartbeat. Last year, lawmakers passed House Bill 2982, the Second Chance at Life Act, requires that women receiving chemical abortions be informed that the process can be stopped as long as the woman doesn’t take the second drug in the two-drug chemical abortion process.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued by executive order by President Joe Biden and enforced by federal agencies, Morrisey said the courts sided with West Virginia and other states who opposed the mandates.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued an order Tuesday granting a preliminary injunction against COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers in facilities that receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid. West Virginia was part of a 12-state coalition opposing the mandates.

“We are pleased that the court made a sensible decision and sided with individual freedoms for health care workers,” Morrisey said in a statement Tuesday night. “Our group has successfully stopped this mandate from taking effect for the time being, and we believe the mandate will be struck down permanently moving forward. Such mandates threaten to further burden the health care sector and patient well-being in West Virginia, where a large percentage of nursing home and other long-term care facilities are already facing worker shortages.”

Morrisey also joined with six other states last month in filing a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to block Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors. A separate federal case in Kentucky blocked implementation of the contractor vaccine mandate in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has already blocked a vaccine and testing mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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