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W.Va. reacts to abortion ruling

Steven Allen Adams NO MORE – The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion clinic located in Charleston, will keep offering reproductive health services but was no longer providing abortions as of Friday.

By STEVEN ALLEN ADAMS

Staff writer

CHARLESTON — Republican leaders in West Virginia praised a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday returning decisions on abortion laws back to the states, while supporters of abortion rights called Friday a dark day for women’s reproductive rights.

Supporters and opponents to abortion access quickly released statements after Friday’s decision. West Virginians for Life and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston issued press releases.

“We are thrilled with the decision rendered by the Supreme Court today,” said Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life. “We are so happy to be able to live in a country that is no longer damaged by the legalized killing of our most vulnerable members.”

“The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston applauds the Supreme Court’s decision today in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” said Bishop Mark Brennan on Friday. “While this decision will offer greater protection for the unborn in some parts of the country, we call upon Catholics throughout the diocese to continue to foster a genuine respect for all human life throughout our country.”

A coalition of West Virginia pro-choice and reproductive rights groups held a press conference Friday afternoon, including representatives of WV FREE, ACLU-WV, Women’s Health Center of WV and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

“The reality is the abortion landscape, the access to abortion in West Virginia, is severely restricted,” said Alisa Clements, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Speaking during the press conference, Katie Quinonez, executive director of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, said it has immediately stopped providing abortions as of Friday, though other reproductive health services will continue. The Women’s Health Center, located in Charleston, is the state’s only abortion clinic.

“Our clinic cannot safely provide abortion care until further notice,” Quinonez said. “Let’s get one thing straight: Roe has never been enough, never ever … forced birth politicians have done what they can to dismantle access to abortion for people who are most marginalized in our community. This will not end with abortion. Next will probably be birth control, then marriage equality, then your private sexual life.”

It means that the West Virginians with the money to do so will now be forced to travel hundreds to thousands of miles away from their homes to get healthcare … It means people who are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies will go further into debt, according to Quinonez.

Gov. Jim Justice released a statement immediately after the Supreme Court ruling praising the decision and stating he would likely call a special session in the near future once attorneys look over the state’s abortion laws. Justice read from that statement on his virtual briefing from the State Capitol Building Friday.

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s courageous decision today,” Justice said. “I’ve said many times that I very proudly stand for life and I am rock-solid against abortion, and I believe that every human life is a miracle worth protecting. I will not hesitate to call a special session after consulting with the Legislature and my legal team if clarification in our laws needs to be made.”

Justice added that the state should consider providing funding to crisis pregnancy centers that provide resources for underage and expecting mothers, though often criticized by reproductive rights groups as fake clinics.

“I am absolutely proud that we can do and we should be looking at in every way we can possibly help our crisis pregnancy centers and help those folks there,” Justice said. “We’ve had discussions but no at-length discussions with the Legislature and lots of different folks.”

West Virginia has a number of abortion laws on the books. A constitutional amendment adopted by voters a few years ago added language to the state Constitution, stating that “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

Other laws limit abortions in the state to no less than 20 weeks of gestation, require abortion patients to receive state-directed counseling, a 24-hour waiting period before receiving the procedure, and notification of parent if the patient is a minor. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed the Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act. It prohibits abortions because of physical and intellectual disabilities unless the physician can confirm that the abortion is not being conducted due to the physical and intellectual disability.

There is also a law on the books that pre-dates the Roe v. Wade decision that 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.

“We need the Legislature and the Governor to get behind repeal of the old criminal law around abortion,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, CEO of WV FREE. “We know that there are legislators that do believe that the criminal law goes way too far, both Republicans and Democrats. We’re calling on them to find the courage, find the compassion, and act on it immediately in special session by repealing the code.”

In a joint statement, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said legislative attorneys are looking over existing laws now to determine what needs to be changed or removed in state code.

“We applaud the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to affirm that every human life is precious,” Blair and Hanshaw said. “Abortion is addressed in numerous statutes in West Virginia Code, and now our attorneys will need to further review those statutes to determine how they apply in light of this decision. We will work with the executive branch to address any needs relating to our state’s abortion laws that may arise from today’s opinion.”

Not all members of the Legislature were enthused about the Supreme Court abortion decision, with Democratic lawmakers releasing statements.

“Make no mistake about it, the decision will make all abortions illegal in West Virginia with no exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother and no exceptions for the victims of rape and incest,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, the chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party.

“This decision is just radical and wrong,” added Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, the state party’s vice chair.

“Protections that have been in place for women and pregnant people for 50 years have been overturned,” said state Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion. “Being a parent and a grandparent has been one of my greatest joys in life. It is one of the best choices my wife and I ever made. But it was just that — a choice. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not to be a parent.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was part of a 24-state friend-of-the-court brief in support of overturning Roe and Casey. In a statement, Morrisey said his office will also provide guidance to Justice and the Legislature.

“This historic decision is long past due, although it took nearly 50 years to overturn several flawed Supreme Court decisions that have led to the tragic deaths of more than 60 million unborn children,” Morrisey said. “I am proud to stand with those who agree that the law must afford the unborn the same rights as everyone, most especially the inviolable right to life.”

West Virginia’s two U.S. Senators were on opposite sides of the Supreme Court decision Friday. U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., expressed support for the decision and having it placed back before the states and Congress.

“By overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court has returned this issue to the states to make their own determination,” Capito said. “I support this decision, and I would expect West Virginia to support this decision as well.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was critical of the decision as well as of justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh who sided with the majority of the court.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. It has been the law of the land for nearly 50 years and was understood to be settled precedent,” Manchin said. “I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans.”

West Virginia’s three Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives also weighed in. First District Congressman David McKinley; 2nd District Congressman Alex Mooney, lead sponsor of a bill that states that life begins at conception; and 3rd District Congresswoman Carol Miller all praised the court’s decision.

“Today, the Court has taken a historic step to correct this decades-old error,” McKinley said. “I applaud this decision that will save countless innocent lives.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision is an unequivocal win for the pro-life movement and all pre-born babies,” Mooney said. “Respecting human life from the moment of conception until natural death is not simply a religious belief, it is a scientific fact that life begins at conception. As a result of today’s decision, millions of lives will be saved.”

“As a mother and grandmother, I know the joys a child brings to a family,” Miller said. “All life, no matter the age, should be cherished. I am pleased to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. An unborn child is a human life that must be protected. Today is a huge victory for all Americans.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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