By Leah Willingham, Associated Press
Republican Gov. Jim Justice on Sept. 16 signed into law a ban on abortions at all stages of pregnancy, making West Virginia the second state to enact a law prohibiting the procedure since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning its constitutional protection.
The bill went into effect immediately, except for the criminal penalties, which will go into effect in 90 days, he said. Justice described the legislation on Twitter as “a bill that protects life.”
“I said from the beginning that if W.Va. legislators brought me a bill that protected life and included reasonable and logical exceptions I would sign it, and that’s what I did today,” he said.
The ban has exemptions for medical emergencies and for rape and incest victims until eight weeks of pregnancy for adults and 14 weeks for those under the age of 18. Victims must report their assault to law enforcement 48 hours before the procedure. Minors can report to the police or a doctor, who then must tell police.
The bill requires abortions to be performed by a physician at a hospital — a provision that at least two Republican lawmakers have said was intended to shut down abortions at the Women’s Health Center, which has provided the procedure since 1976 and was the state’s sole abortion clinic. Providers who perform illegal abortions can face up to 10 years in prison.
Shortly after lawmakers passed the bill Tuesday, Women’s Health Center of West Virginia Executive Director Katie Quinonez said the
clinic’s lawyer advised them to suspend abortions immediately. Dozens of West Virginia women have already had to rebook canceled appointments at out-of-state clinics in places like Pennsylvania and Virginia, she said.
The Women’s Health Center has been providing them with resources to book appointments out-of-state and funding to help cover travel and the procedure, Quinonez said.
After Justice announced he had signed the ban, the ACLU of West Virginia released a statement on Twitter calling the ban a “forced-birth bill” and saying the governor has “snubbed the vast majority of West Virginians and sided with extremists.”
“This law is anything but pro-life. It places lifesaving healthcare out of reach for tens of thousands,” the tweet said. “Our work continues.”
Indiana’s abortion ban, signed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in August, started being enforced Sept. 15.
Indiana and West Virginia now join more than a dozen states with abortion bans, though most were approved before that Supreme Court ruling and took effect once the court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a bill that would ban abortion nationwide after the 15th week of pregnancy, with rare exceptions, intensifying the ongoing debate inside and outside the GOP, though the proposal has almost no chance of becoming law in the Democratic-held Congress.