State lawmakers passed laws that spread misinformation about abortion, target kids who are transgender, and harm people recovering from addiction. And they slept on period equity.
The West Virginia Legislature passed almost 300 bills in just two months, sending a flurry of legislation to Governor Jim Justice for his signature or veto. We wish we had better news to share. The truth is that many of the bills that are expected to become law will harm West Virginians, and lots of bills that would have helped people didn’t see the light of day.
Here are a few key pieces of (mostly bad) legislation that we expect to become law related to reproductive health care, LGBTQ equality, bodily autonomy, and public health.
Doctors will now be required to give medically inaccurate information to their patients seeking a medication abortion. Governor Justice is expected to sign House Bill 2982 into law, a provision that will force doctors to tell patients that their decision to end a pregnancy through medication abortion can be undone when no credible evidence supports that claim. In fact, the claim that abortion can be stopped midway is a medically unproven practice that could be dangerous, disproportionately harming low-income people and people of color. This blatant attempt to spread inaccurate information about abortion, deceive patients, and push an anti-abortion agenda will now be codified into law.
Students will no longer be allowed to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity. The hateful and discriminatory policy being introduced in state legislatures across the country passed here in West Virginia. House Bill 3293 will ban athletes who are transgender in middle school, high school, and college, preventing them from fully participating in school athletics. Studies show this type of legislation is directly linked with increases in self-harm and suicide among young people who are transgender. When we build inclusive environments at school that don’t attack children for simply being who they are, all kids can thrive. We shouldn’t accept anything less. Shame on legislators for passing this bigoted piece of legislation.
Syringe access programs will be severely restricted in the state, eliminating many of these life-saving programs that help people living with addiction and HIV. Governor Justice signed Senate Bill 334 into law despite numerous health care providers and community leaders citing major concerns. Public health experts warned that this law will hamper harm reduction programs and worsen outbreaks of diseases, including HIV transmissions, and lead to higher rates of illness and death among people recovering from drug addiction. This law comes after the CDC identified Charleston as the “most concerning” HIV outbreak in the country among people using injection drugs. Needle exchange programs like those run by SOAR have been proven to reduce transmission of HIV and also prevent people from dying from overdoses. This law does not follow CDC guidelines and will put West Virginia on the map as having the strictest needle exchange policy in the country.
Low-income children and their families will be required to be screened for drugs in order to receive critical emergency financial assistance. Senate Bill 387 creates a permanent barrier to obtaining financial assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, requiring that applicants, most of whom are children, undergo a drug test. Advocates warned that this law perpetuates a false assumption that low-income families are more likely to use drugs and would have unintended consequences that prevent children from enrolling in the program at all, cutting off much-needed aid as families continue to struggle through the pandemic.
People enrolled in Medicaid while pregnant will now have health insurance coverage for themselves and their baby for up to 12 months after giving birth. House Bill 2266 is a bright spot in an otherwise awful legislative session. Caring for maternal health does not begin when a person gets pregnant, and it doesn't end when a pregnancy is over. This change will help our state reduce maternal mortality and improve early child development outcomes. A major victory!
Last but not least, state lawmakers did not pass any bills related to menstrual and gender equity this year, ignoring growing calls for period equity across the state and overlooking easy, bipartisan wins that would benefit us all. While four menstrual equity bills were introduced this session, including a bill that would have put free period products in schools, none moved far enough in the process. A fifth bill, SB 302, which would ban gender discrimination on commercial products (like pink razors marketed to women with a higher price point than men’s razors), passed the Senate Judiciary committee but stalled before it could go any further. Everyone, regardless of their identity or status in life, needs access to affordable and safe period products without gender or hygiene-based stigmas. This is a bipartisan issue that affects us all and deserves to be prioritized by the West Virginia Legislature.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic will continue to organize and advocate for period equity in West Virginia, regardless of the actions (or inaction) of state lawmakers. Learn more about how PPSAT is providing period products to people across the state through the Prioritize Periods program and ways you can get involved.
Thank you to all the supporters who stayed engaged during this year’s legislative session and took action to fight for health, freedom, and bodily autonomy in West Virginia. I am proud to work alongside you every year and hope you stay tuned for some of the ways you can take action later this year.