West Virginia Press Association Staff Report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, on Thursday, advanced two bills designed to bolster laws surrounding pregnancies in West Virginia. While SB 575 deals primarily with the legality of surrogacy arrangements, SB 352 seemingly seeks to tighten the state’s already restricted abortion access.
Introduced by Sen. Tom Takubo, and introduced by committee counsel, SB 575, “Sets the criteria for gestational and genetic surrogacy agreements, laying out the process and content of a valid agreement.”
According to counsel, the bill also provides instruction to surrogate parents, as well as counsel regarding the termination of a surrogacy agreement.
“The bill makes a distinction between gestational and genetic surrogacy,” counsel continued. “Genetic surrogacy is where the surrogate is biologically related to the child, due to using her own gamete. In the process of gestational surrogacy, the surrogate does not use her own gamete, and is therefore not biologically related to the child.”
All parties involved in a surrogacy agreement, as required in the bill, must be at least 21-years-of-age, submit to a physical and emotional evaluation, and “have independent legal representation throughout the arrangement.” Surrogates must also have previously given birth to at least one child.
After adoption by Health and Human Resources, SB 575 will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
Next the committee considered SB 352, introduced by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.
According to Committee Counsel Cindy Dellinger, the bill requires that medical providers inform patients of potential risks of abortion a minimum of 24 hours prior to undergoing the procedure. The bill further requires that patients be made aware of prenatal hospice services as an alternative to abortion. Patients must also be afforded an opportunity to view an ultrasound image of the fetus.
Dellinger advised that there is a pending committee substitute to the bill, which includes language related to “informed consent.”
“The bill states that an abortion performed […] requires the voluntary and informed consent of the patient,” Dellinger said. “The bill states that consent is only voluntary and informed if the licensed medical professional informs the patient of the medical risks associated with the particular abortion procedure, including the risks of infection, hemorrhage, danger to subsequent pregnancies, infertility, and reversal.”
The committee substitute, Dellinger added, also includes language regarding protections for aborted fetuses born alive.
At the conclusion of Dellinger’s explanation, Sen. Rucker asked for additional clarification.
“We’re receiving a lot of emails claiming that we’re somehow restricting abortion further,” Rucker said. “I just want you to clarify to the committee that this bill does not in any way change what we did previously, in terms of the abortions allowed in the State of West Virginia.”
In an effort to provide that clarification, Dellinger said, “It does not impact the exceptions that are currently in place with respect to the abortions that are permitted under those exceptions.”
“What it does do is place the ‘informed consent’ language that previously existed in the law into this [bill] in an amended format,” Dellinger added.
Stressing the point, Rucker then asked, “So essentially what this just does is ensure that women have informed information to make decisions if pursuing an abortion in the State of West Virginia under the limited circumstances which we allow?”
After Dellinger once again confirmed Rucker’s assertion, SB 352 was unanimously approved by the committee. The bill will now be reported to the full Senate with the committee’s recommendation for passage.