By W.Va. State Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion
“Radical Individualism.” That’s a term the controlling party of the West Virginia Legislature uses to describe a woman’s desire to have the freedom to make her own health decisions.
I’m really struggling with that.
For some 26 years, I’ve engaged in public policy debates with Republicans who time and again have argued against overriding an individual’s choice – no mandatory vaccinations, background checks to obtain certain weapons, or mask mandates — despite the fact those measures help protect the public as a whole. But to justify passage of legislation that criminalizes nearly all abortions and will endanger countless West Virginia women, the supermajority of the House of Delegates passed a resolution, a rambling manifesto more like, that cites this “radical individualism” and suggests forcing a woman to give birth despite her, and her physician’s, best judgement is “a return to the most fundamental reason for the existence of government.”
That government, I remind you, is the same government these politicians have spent their careers shouting should be limited to the fullest extent possible. I know it sounds too contradictory to be true, so don’t take my word for it, read the resolution in full. It would be laughable if this situation weren’t so dire.
Initially I was mystified by this “statement of sentiments,” which tries to convey the efforts to strip these women of their liberty as some heroic attempt to preserve the sacredness of motherhood and its contribution “fundamentally to the common good.”
But then I realized that what the Republican party in West Virginia is trying to do, however poorly, is dig itself out of a very deep hole.
The Republican legislative leadership realizes what the hard-liners within their party refuse to acknowledge: The majority of West Virginians, both Republican and Democrat, don’t want the government infringing on their healthcare choices, and that includes the decision, made with the consultation of a health care provider, to abort a pregnancy.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce recently conducted a poll showing fewer than one-fifth of Republicans support a full abortion ban. Among Independents, 50 percent are pro-choice. A poll sponsored by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found among West Virginians under the age of 35, there is widespread opposition to banning abortion, and three-fifths of those young people who are planning to move out of the state in the next five years cite the direction of West Virginia’s politics as a reason. Most young voters either support the right to abortion, or if they are opposed to abortion, do not believe the government should prevent someone from making that decision.
Across the country, young people (particularly young women) are registering to vote at a significantly higher rate in states where abortion rights are under threat since the Supreme Court’s June decision. In Kansas, women registered at more than twice the rate men prior to the vote rejecting that state’s constitutional amendment banning abortion.
But the WV GOP that rode the red wave into the statehouse promised their far right constituents they would push through this incredibly restrictive and dangerous bill. The few “exceptions” included imposing massive, extremely time-sensitive obstacles for young girls and young women with developmental disabilities who are victims of rape and incest to terminate a pregnancy, and lawmakers dictate to physicians what can be considered a “medical emergency” necessitating an abortion. If a partner, parent, or anyone else obtains an abortion pill for a pregnant person, they can be found guilty of a felony and serve 10 years in prison.
The legislation was not vetted by any legislative committee. There was no public hearing. No physicians were asked to testify.
Yet the Republican leadership claimed this bill was a “compromise.” I can tell you the Democrats were never part of that behind-closed-door discussion. There’s no way in hell I would compromise when it comes to the rights and freedom of women. I support their individualism.
I just hope the women of West Virginia, and the men who love them, will realize which legislators voted to take away their individual freedom to make personal health decisions when they go to the polls this November.
Senator Mike Caputo is a Democrat who has represented Marion County in the state legislature since 1996. He currently serves in the state Senate representing District 13 (Marion and Monongalia Counties). He is a retired Vice President of the UMWA and proud husband, father, and grandfather.’