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WV Reproductive Rights Advocates Now Look to Fall Election

The West Virginia Legislature passed SJR 12 on Monday. Now the anti-abortion measure is headed for the November ballot. (Dan Heyman)
The West Virginia Legislature passed SJR 12 on Monday. Now the anti-abortion measure is headed for the November ballot. (Dan Heyman)
March 7, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia reproductive rights advocates see partisan political strategies behind the abortion referendum now headed for the ballot. But they also say they're ready.

Senate Joint Resolution 12 would remove any right to abortion from the state constitution. Supporters say it's intended to overturn a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that makes Medicaid pay for abortions.

But Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director at West Virginia FREE, said it's really intended to turn out pro-life voters in November, and at the same time erode the legal doctrines that support Roe v. Wade. She said she sees it as a chess move to set up future legal arguments.

“[It’s] a highly strategic, long game since Roe v. Wade became law, and now they're going for the big prize,” Chapman Pomponio said. “Really, what they're doing is playing politics with women's lives."

But she said there's also a rising wave of women becoming politically active in West Virginia and around the country. So regarding the fall election battle, she said, "Game on."

Before passing SJR 12 by a large margin, legislators turned down a bill that would have just forbidden state Medicaid from paying for abortions. They also turned away an amendment to SJR 12 that would have meant a vote on the referendum question before the main ballot in November.

Chapman Pomponio said this shows that lawmakers have not really been focused on the impact this could have on women and families in desperate situations.

"I've gotten the sense that they really haven't thought it through,” she said. “And in fact, many legislators tell me privately, 'We don't want to be doing this, but we're doing it anyway.'"

Chapman Pomponio said a state law still on the books makes providing abortion services a felony punishable by three to ten years in prison. That code was overruled by Roe v. Wade, but Chapman Pomponio said doctors in the Legislature were turned back when trying to change it.

So, she observed, if the referendum passes and Roe v. Wade is overturned, that state law would be in effect.

"This is not just about taking away Medicaid funding for abortions,” Chapman Pomponio said. “If Roe v. Wade were to fall, you could be thrown in prison for performing an abortion on yourself or on someone else."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV