Public weighs in on 15-week abortion ban, fetal body parts bills
CHARLESTON — As bills banning abortion after 15-week and prohibitions on in-state transfer of fetal body parts make their way through the West Virginia House of Delegates, members of the public had an opportunity make their voices heard on the subjects Monday.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee and the House Judiciary Committee held a joint public hearing Monday afternoon in the House Chamber for House Bill 4004, banning abortion procedures in West Virginia after 15 weeks, and House Bill 4005, banning the selling or collection of fetal body parts under certain conditions.
The bills made it out of the House Health Committee on Thursday by voice vote, sending the bills to the House Judiciary Committee for further review. If judiciary committee members approve, the whole House would get a chance to amend and vote on the bills.
HB 4004 would prohibit licensed medical professionals from performing abortions if the gestation period of the fetus is determined to be greater than 15 weeks with exemptions for medical emergencies or in the instance of severe fetal abnormalities.
West Virginia already bans abortion procedures after 20 weeks of gestation, or “pain capable gestation age.” According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only Mississippi and Louisiana have 15-week abortion bans, though those laws are not in effect due to court orders.
Mississippi’s abortion ban is part of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. Oral arguments were heard in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in December, with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey one of 24 states who filed briefs supporting the Mississippi law.
HB 4005 would make it a crime to collect, harvest, sell, donate, receive, or transfer fetal body parts from induced abortions within state borders, matching a similar federal prohibition for interstate transport of fetal parts. The bill does not apply to fetal body parts used for stem cell research or umbilical cord blood.
Of the 17 speakers who signed up to speak about HB 4004, the vast majority of the speakers spoke against the bill. Rita Ray, an 80-year-old patient advocate in the state, recounted her illegal abortion in 1959 in Kentucky before the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
“I was told to go to an alley after dark and enter an apartment through a back door, where a woman met me and performed the procedure,” Ray said. “I survived this terrifying and horrifying experience, but many from that era did not … the question is, do you want West Virginia women and girls to get this procedure in medically safe conditions, or will you drive them to desperate measures and force them to have children they can’t afford?”
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, CEO of reproductive rights organization WV FREE, said that lawmakers should not be trying to limit healthcare for women in the middle of a pandemic.
“People are scared of what is happening when it comes to their health and their ability to plan and care for their families,” Pomponio said. “The ongoing pandemic has exposed the long-standing inequities in our healthcare system, including the damaging impact of restrictions on abortion care.”
Frank Hartman, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the organization stands opposed to HB 4004 and HB 4005
“Bans on abortion tie the hands of doctors, forcing them to make untenable choices, break the law, or deny needed care to patients whose pregnancies threaten their health,” Hartman said. “No physician should be treated like a criminal or face professional retribution for providing compassionate, evidence-based and needed medical care.”
Of the 12 speakers against the 15-week abortion ban, nine were women. Five men were the only supporters of the bill.
“A physician performing an abortion changes the role of the physician from healer to, potentially, the executioner,” said Barry Holstein. “This action undermines the social value that we place on life … Today, I’m asking that you pass these just laws to send a message to others that we, as West Virginians, value the innocent life of our unborn.”
“If your mother or my mother chose to abort our lives, we would not be here today,” said Bo Burgess, representing West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Values. “Some would call this bill extreme, but I would call the murder of innocent children in the womb extreme.”