The Republican-led West Virginia Legislature on Friday did not come to a consensus on a bill that would ban abortions with some exceptions, leaving the procedure legal in the state for now.
West Virginia is one of two states that have reconvened a special session to consider restrictions on abortion since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, finding there was no longer a federal constitutional right to the procedure. HB 302, the West Virginia bill under debate, aims to significantly curtail access to abortion in the state, where it is currently legal up to 20 weeks post-fertilization.
HB 302 would prohibit abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with exceptions for a “nonmedically viable fetus,” a medical emergency or an ectopic pregnancy, a rare event in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus and cannot survive.
The Senate on Friday voted 21-10 to return the bill with its amendments to the House, which had passed a different version on Wednesday. That chamber declined to accept the changes later Friday, adjourning without announcing a time to reconvene.
Among the notable differences, the House-backed version included exceptions for rape and incest up until about 14 weeks of gestation and if a report was made to a “qualified law enforcement officer.” The Senate changed the measure, scaling it back to allow for exceptions in cases of rape or incest until eight weeks.
The House-passed HB 302 also sought to repeal a 19th century state law criminalizing abortion but reenact the law’s criminal penalties for medical professionals who violate the abortion ban. An abortion provider who violates the law would be subject to a felony and up to 10 years in prison, according to the bill.
The House and Senate must agree on the legislative text before it can be sent to Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who had called lawmakers back for the special session to “clarify and modernize” West Virginia’s abortion-related laws.
Under both versions of the bill, miscarriages, stillbirths, in vitro fertilization and medical treatment that results in accidental or unintentional death of a fetus, are not considered abortions. The legislation would not prevent the sale and use of contraceptives. And abortion providers would need to notify a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.
It defines medical emergencies as a “condition that so complicates the medical condition of a patient as to necessitate an immediate abortion to avert the patient’s death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions.”
Legal fights are being waged in more than a dozen states over abortion bans and other laws that greatly limit the procedure, including in West Virginia, where Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has appealed a state court judge’s order blocking an 1849 law criminalizing abortion from taking effect.
A special session is also underway in Indiana, where lawmakers are set on Saturday to consider a bill that would ban abortion in the state with limited exceptions.