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‘Compromise’ adolescent abortion bill heads to WV Senate


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates unanimously passed on Tuesday a bill that would place new restrictions on adolescent abortion in West Virginia.

West Virginia law currently requires a doctor to give parents at least 24 hours notice before another doctor can perform an abortion on an adolescent, but it includes two exceptions — minors may obtain a waiver from a physician or from a judge.

Lawmakers originally had introduced a bill, House Bill 2002, that would no longer allow a physician to waive the parental notification requirement before an adolescent abortion. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, would have required the minor to be emancipated or go before a judge for abortion access.

After a public hearing drew mostly opposition, from both sexual abuse survivors and women’s health advocates, the judiciary committee sent the bill to a subcommittee for further review.

Members of the subcommittee, which included Delegates Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Kessinger, amended the bill so that most physicians would no longer be able to waive parental notification, but psychiatrists, as well as licensed psychologists, would be able to do so.

During the House floor session Tuesday, Fleischauer spoke in support of the bill, saying that while it has “serious issues,” she supported “working in a bipartisan fashion” and appreciated that bill supporters listened and heard concerns. Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel and an assistant minority whip, also spoke in favor of the amended bill, noting it has bipartisan support.

The bill was up for third reading, the passage stage, on Tuesday morning. The vote was 98-0. Two members were not present. The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

In current state code, and in the original version of the bill, physicians would also have been subject to criminal penalties for violating the legislation. Lawmakers previously amended it so that physicians who violate the law are subject to discipline from state licensing boards.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights organization WV Free, said “because the bill that came out of the House today is such an improvement over the existing statute, we in the women’s health community have agreed to support it.”

“When the Legislature hands you lemons, you try to make lemonade,” she said. “The fact is, in 1984, when the first parental notification bill was passed, it was a boatload of lemons. But with the physician penalties removed and another provider waiver in place, we are comfortable with the compromise. There are a few, vulnerable young women who very much need that additional safeguard and we feel confident that they can get the care they need through the mental health community when it’s not in their best interest to notify their parents.”

According to DHHR, four teenagers used the physician waiver option last year.

Karen Cross, the West Virginians for Life legislative coordinator and political director for the National Right to Life Committee, who is based in northern Virginia, said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the amended bill. Cross was present at the subcommittee meeting when changes were discussed.

“I’m just hoping we end up with legislation that will protect our little girls,” she said.

The West Virginia Psychological Association did not respond to requests for comment last week, and the West Virginia Psychiatric Association did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. A message left with the West Virginia Association of Professional Psychologists was not returned.

Mark Drennan, executive director of the West Virginia Behavioral Healthcare Providers Association, said Tuesday that they continue to be concerned about whether adolescent girls would have timely access to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

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