CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV News) — Lawmakers have passed a bill effectively banning abortion procedures in West Virginia.
The West Virginia Legislature completed the work of the year’s third special session Tuesday with the passage of House Bill 302.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 22-7, with five members absent. It passed the House by a vote of 78-17, with five members absent.
Both chambers elected to make the bill effective from passage, meaning it will become law immediately upon being signed by Gov. Jim Justice.
The bill would ban abortions from being performed or induced unless they are recommended by the “reasonable judgment of a licensed medical professional” for reasons such as a non-medically viable fetus, ectopic pregnancy or medical emergencies.
The bill contains exceptions for victims of incest and sexual assault, with several stipulations, according to Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.
Adults who are victims of incest and sexual assault will be able to seek an exemption to the law for up to eight weeks.
Adult victims must report the crime to law enforcement, and law enforcement must provide the report to the medical professional performing the procedure, Takubo said.
Minors may seek an exemption for up to 14 weeks, Takubo said.
“For this exception, at least one of the following must occur: either 1) a report of sexual assault or incest must be made to law enforcement or 2) the patient must obtain medial treatment for the sexual assault or incest by a licensed medical professional...” he said.
Licensed medical professionals who perform abortion procedures in violation of the law can be subject to “disciplinary action,” Takubo said.
“If the licensing board finds that the medical professional unlawfully preforms or induces an abortion, or attempted to do so, the board shall revoke the medical professional’s license,” he said.
Non-medical professionals who perform or assist with abortion procedures can face criminal penalties, Takubo said.
“Three to 10 years in prison — a felony offense,” he said.
The bill does not include criminal penalties for women who undergo abortion procedures, Takubo said.
The debate surrounding the legality of abortion procedures in West Virginia began shortly after the release of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, which overturned the court’s previous ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who has said he is “rock-solid against abortion,” said he planned to call a special session after state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a memorandum weighing in on the ambiguity surrounding the status of West Virginia’s 1849 abortion statute.
The statute, which made performing an abortion procedures a felony punishable by three to 10 years in jail, was never repealed, the attorney general said in the memo.
Justice called lawmakers to Charleston on July 25 consider his proposal to reduce the state’s personal income tax by 10%, but he added consideration of the state’s abortion laws moments after the session got underway.
The session was supposed to last one day and focus only on the tax plan, but it stretched into five days and then came to a standstill with the House of Delegates and state Senate both adjourning to the call of the chairs without passing legislation on either issue.
The Senate passed a version of HB 302 during the initial special session, but a majority of House members refused to concur.
The third special session remained in a technical timeout until Tuesday morning, when Senate President Craig Blair and Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw issued a joint statement shortly before 10 a.m. saying both chambers would be called “back into session” at noon.
The Senate recalled the bill for consideration a second time Tuesday.
Shortly after the Senate passed HB 302 on Tuesday, Planned Parenthood South Altantic issued a statement decrying the “dangerous bill.”
“No matter how many narrow exceptions are written into this dangerous bill, it will cause chaos in the health care system and result in people being denied life-saving care, including survivors of sexual assault,” said Alisa Clements, director of public affairs. “State lawmakers have once again schemed behind closed doors, shamefully denying the will and political participation of their constituents, because they know their extreme agenda is not what West Virginians want in their state.”
On Tuesday evening, West Virginians for Life, the local affiliate of the national pro-life organization National Right to Life Committee, celebrated the bill’s passage.
“The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision returned abortion law to the people’s representatives in the state legislatures where it belongs,” said West Virginians for Life President Wanda Franz. “Today the West Virginia Legislature has passed a bill that will save thousands of babies’ lives here in West Virginia. WVFL thanks the pro-life legislators who support protection for all human life.”