Tomblin to weigh constitutionality of abortion bill

CHARLESTON, WV — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he has concerns about whether a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks is constitutional.

The full Legislature passed House Bill 4588 after an emotional debate. It now requires Tomblin’s signature to become law.

“The abortion bill obviously is one that causes me some concern because even the legislative attorneys and others said they feel this bill is unconstitutional,” Tomblin said. “I’ll be looking at all aspects of it once I receive the bill.”

In its amended form, it allows for termination after 20 weeks in the instances of non-viable pregnancies. An amendment also reduced penalties for doctors convicted of performing abortions from a felony to misdemeanor.

But the bill didn’t pass without a fight. Lawmakers in both chambers — Delegate Meshea Poore and Sen. Erik Wells, both D-Kanawha — made passionate floor speeches and invoked rarely used legislative procedures to try to block the bill. A point of order was called against Wells after he demanded the opportunity to speak prior to the Senate floor vote early Saturday. His request was not granted, but Wells did make a speech after the bill passed.

“I know some folks are thinking I would pull a Wendy Davis,” Wells said referencing the Texas state senator who filibustered an anti-abortion bill for 11 hours last year. “All the men know women are stronger and I wouldn’t be able to pull it off anyway.”

Wells said he thinks votes were cast to make a political statement, not because the bill is good policy. Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee cautioned members of that committee against passing the bill Thursday, saying it is unconstitutional and case law indicates the U.S. Supreme Court is more likely to uphold bans after 24 weeks.

“It seems to me the worst thing about politics today is how the special interests really do take heart,” Wells said. “You have to make sure the right checkmarks are checked.”

The focus on “gays, abortions and guns” is what causes West Virginia to rank low among U.S. states, he said.

“We’re never going to get past 50th if we’re more concerned about the next election than we are the next generation,” Wells said.

Wanda Franz, president of pro-life group West Virginians for Life, said in a news release this bill protects unborn babies from feeling pain during abortions…

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