W.Va. leaders still grappling with Supreme Court abortion decision
CHARLESTON — West Virginia officials are still dealing with the fallout from Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned two previous rulings and returned decisions on abortion back to the states.
In a 6-3 ruling Friday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not secure or deny women the right to an abortion.
The majority decision overturned the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and a follow-up decision 19 years later in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey that both upheld a right for women to seek an abortion.
Friday’s decision caused the state’s only abortion clinic in Charleston to halt all abortion procedures due to an old law remaining on West Virginia’s books that makes providing abortion services a crime. State Code 61-2-8 makes it a felony for any person to cause an abortion. If convicted, a doctor or other person could be sentenced to between three and 10 years in prison. The only exception is for saving the life of the mother or child.
The law is based on a similar Virginia law from 1849 that was included in West Virginia’s criminal code when it became a state in 1863 – 159 years ago. That section of state code remained active until 1975, when a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Doe v. Charleston Area Medical Center determined that law was unconstitutional.
Despite being ruled unconstitutional, the law has never been removed from State Code by the West Virginia Legislature. Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he is pro-life, but he was consulting with his legal team, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and the Legislature to review State Code and decide if a special session is warranted.
Speaking Tuesday during a virtual briefing from the Capitol, Justice said those conversations are continuing.
“There’s been a lot of feedback between me and the Attorney General yesterday. There’s feedback between myself and (the Legislature) and everything. There’s a lot of moving parts here. We absolutely need to work with the Attorney General. We need to work with the Legislature. We all need to work together. There is a lot, lot, lot to discuss and look at.”
Justice cautioned against calling an immediate special session on abortion in order to give more time for the legal review and ensure a consensus between the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Legislature.
“Before we just jump, let’s be prudent and let’s be smart,” Justice said. “Let’s work with all the different people and everything, and I think we’ll come out of this with really good stuff from the standpoint of the correct laws and the correct considerations and everything. We’re going to come out of this with what is right for West Virginia.”
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon and signed by 43 members of the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee and 47 other prominent Democratic organizers and activists, they called on U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin to support legislation codifying Roe v. Wade in federal law, including nixing the filibuster — the requirement for 60 votes in the Senate for bills to be fully considered.
“As West Virginia Democrats — and as human beings — we are appalled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s blatantly dangerous decision to overturn Roe,” the letter writers stated. “Reproductive rights are essential human rights; reproductive health care is health care. Americans should be free to make their own medical decisions in consultation with their health care providers.
“In West Virginia, this new abortion decision will disproportionately impact and harm low-income families and minorities,” the writers continued. “This decision will kill people. We therefore call upon Senator Joe Manchin to immediately support nixing, or fixing, the Senate filibuster so Congress is able to pass legislation that will save people’s lives by codifying Roe.”
Manchin released a statement last week criticizing the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating that he supported codifying Roe v. Wade. But Manchin has gone on-the-record multiple times over the last several years in favor of keeping filibuster protections in place.
Speaking to the press after an event at the State Capitol Monday, Manchin said by kicking the decision-making on abortion back to the states, it puts people in the middle between red and blue states.
“Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, the bottom line is it’s important for people to have a clear pathway,” Manchin said. “Now to have states competing against each other is wrong, and having people put in the middle in jeopardy with their health. It’s just wrong.”