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Bill placing further restrictions on abortion heading to WV governor


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Absent a veto from the governor, adolescent girls who, for a variety of personal reasons can’t or don’t want to tell their parents they plan to have an abortion, will now have to go before a judge to seek the procedure.

West Virginia law currently allows physicians to waive parental notification before another physician performs an abortion on a minor, if the physician finds it is not in the minor’s best interest to inform her parents, or if the physician finds the minor is mature enough to make that decision on her own.

Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, introduced a bill that would strip physicians of that ability. But after sexual abuse survivors and women’s health advocates spoke against the bill during a public hearing, the House Judiciary Committee listened.

Delegate John Shott, R- Mercer, appointed a subcommittee of three women, including the bill sponsor, to work on a compromise that both sides could support. The amended legislation Kessinger worked on with Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, allowed for a waiver from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Now, the original bill is on its way to the governor for his signature.

When the bill reached the Senate, Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, amended it back to the original version in the Senate Health Committee. Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, motioned for the bill to skip a second committee, and the bill was sent to the floor for a vote. Saturday afternoon, on the 60th day of the legislative session, the Senate passed the bill.

Rucker moved to amend the bill so that the psychiatrist and psychologist waiver option was removed in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday.

In a 28-6 vote, senators voted to pass the bill Saturday, requiring unemancipated minors go to court for care.

Those who voted no included Sens. Robert Beach, D-Monongalia; Douglas Facemire, D-Braxton; Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam; Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier; Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; and Mike Romano, D-Harrison.

In a 22-12 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Palumbo that would have given psychologists and psychiatrists the ability to petition a court for a parental notification waiver.

Senators who voted for the amendment and then for the bill included Donna Boley, R-Pleasants; Mike Maroney, R-Marshall; Bob Plymale, D-Wayne; Ron Stollings, D-Boone; Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha; and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

WV Free, a reproductive rights organization, had supported the subcommittee’s changes to the bill, calling it a “compromise.”

Representatives of West Virginians for Life have said they were unaware of what was in the compromise version, but promoted its passage on their Facebook page.

Rucker spoke against Palumbo’s amendment Saturday.

“I oppose this amendment, although I do appreciate the senator trying to find a way to make things in his mindset easier, but I find that it actually complicates matters,” she said.

Several men also spoke, including Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, who cited the Ten Commandments and spoke of a “holy sacred relationship” between parent and child, and Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, who suggested that girls who undergo abortions in adolescence are more likely to become drug addicts, alcoholics, suffer from depression and kill themselves.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents who choose abortion instead of childbirth have higher self-esteem, have greater feelings of control over life, have lower levels of anxiety and are better able to conceptualize the future. A national study that used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics in a policy statement, found that abortion was not associated with depression or low self-esteem.

Two physician senators, Takubo and Stollings, spoke in support of Palumbo’s amendment.

Later Saturday, the House of Delegates voted to accept the change and then passed the bill in an 82-17 vote. Both Fleischauer and Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, spoke against the revised bill, noting the work of the judiciary committee. Summers suggested revisiting the subject next year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence, American Public Health Association and American Medical Association have all issued policy statements saying requiring minors to go to court for access to abortion can lead to negative consequences for young women.

“Mandatory parental consent or notification laws do not promote family communication, do not protect the physician or emotional health of young women, and may, in fact, do harm,” the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in a policy statement. “Judicial bypass procedures also risk causing medical and psychological harm to the pregnant adolescent.”

According to the DHHR, physician waivers were issued four times in 2015. In the other 44 adolescent abortions, parents were aware.

Saturday, Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, said the legislation session was “perhaps the worst session ever for women in the Mountain State.” The Legislature also passed a bill banning the prescription of abortion drugs via telemedicine and terminated the Women’s Commission.

“To cast aside the good work on the House bill was an insult to the medical community and the women of West Virginia,” she said in an email. “It is disingenuous at best to assert that the lobby organization that has been at this for more than 20 years didn’t know what was in the bill. The fact is, they played legislators. What happened in the Senate was a sham.”

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