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W.V. ban with narrow exceptions now in effect

CHARLESTON, W.V. — Today during a briefing about the state’s COVID-19 response, Governor Justice unexpectedly announced his approval of House Bill 302, which bans abortion in almost all cases. With the governor’s signature, the abortion ban is now in effect, making West Virginia the second state, after Indiana, to pass a new abortion ban since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“This abortion ban will be deadly for the people of our state, just as the pandemic has been, and for Gov. Justice to callously announce the news like this is cowardly and despicable,” said Alisa Clements, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “There is nothing more extreme than a law that strips people of their freedom. The limited exceptions in this bill are so narrow and so tightly restricted that it will make it extremely difficult for people in vulnerable situations —  including minors and survivors of sexual assault — to get the care they need. Abortion bans cost lives, and people will be denied life-saving care as a result of this government-mandated trauma.”

The bill includes narrow exceptions, including for a medical emergency, which is defined to apply only when an abortion is necessary to avert the patient's death or when delay would cause a "serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment." Adult survivors of sexual assault would only be able to obtain an abortion within the first eight weeks of pregnancy and if the patient reports the assault to law enforcement at least 48 hours before the abortion. Minors who are victims of sexual assault would be subject to additional hurdles: forced notification of a parent, even if the minor is a victim of incest, and an additional 48-hour delay following that notice. This bill also requires the patient to provide the police report to the doctor before providing the abortion.

Doctors of Medicine (MDs) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) would be subject to loss of their medical license if they violate the law. All other medical providers, including nurses or physician assistants, could be charged with a felony and imprisoned for 3-10 years if they provide or assist with an abortion under any circumstance.

House Bill 302 also requires physicians to report the date of the abortion and the name of the performing physician to a legislative oversight committee. 

An analysis from Stacker.com — which used federal data to calculate which percentage of a state's population lives in counties without access to maternal care — shows that more than 20% of West Virginians live in a maternal health care desert, meaning they live in an area without an OBGYN or hospital offering obstetric care.

Studies show that people who are denied an abortion experience serious physical and economic consequences. They are more likely to experience subsequent poverty, to have insufficient funds to pay for basic living expenses, to have poorer health, and are more likely to be trapped in violent relationships. After being denied an abortion, a person is three times more likely to be unemployed than a person who was able to obtain abortion care.

Abortion bans disproportionately harm people with low incomes, people of color, and people who live in rural areas as they already face additional hurdles to accessing abortion and are least likely to be able to travel out of state for care.