Disability abortion bill passes in final moments

Disability abortion bill ignites heated debate
Published: Mar. 12, 2022 at 5:07 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia Legislature, in the final moments of the year’s regular session, voted late Saturday to send the governor legislation that would prohibit abortion sought due to disability of the unborn child.

The Senate voted 27 - 5 to concur with changes approved earlier Saturday by the House. The Senate’s vote came within the last 10 minutes of the year’s regular session, which adjourned at midnight.

The House of Delegates advanced the legislation earlier with a vote of 81 - 17.

The legislation, Senate Bill 468, prohibits abortion unless the patient acknowledges the procedure is not being sought because of a disability, including a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

A separate abortion proposal -- House Bill 4004 -- did not advance. It would have banned abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, five weeks earlier than the state’s current 20-week ban. It would have mirrored a controversial law in Mississippi, which awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The disability bill ignited a heated, one-and-a-half hour debate Saturday afternoon.

“I believe that every life has value regardless of its diagnosis, regardless of its place, regardless of its location, regardless of its place of development,” Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, argued during the House debate.

Under questioning from Democrats, the bill’s presenter said an abortion could proceed with any other reason.

One after one, Democrats spoke out in opposition. That included a failed attempt to exempt cases involving rape or incest.

“I just feel that this is cruel,” argued Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. “It’s inhumane to be forced to go into this situation when you had a traumatic experience.”

Others accused Republicans of rushing the bill for political gain. One said the GOP used people with disabilities as props.

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, pointed to the lack of testimony from doctors and affected women.

“And if you actually had to talk to them, you wouldn’t push this legislation,” he argued. “If you actually had to hear their stories, you wouldn’t come down here and pass this nonsense. You wouldn’t do that, if you had to hear them out.”

“Guess what? I’m not running for re-election, and I’m the lead sponsor of this piece of legislation in this House,” Kessinger responded. “You know why? Because I have had the hard conversations with people, to the gentleman from the third. I have had these. I have sat with women and cried with women as they have told me their stories and their choosing of abortion and I have comforted them and been there with them.”

The proposal’s initial title, “Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act,” was changed to replace the word “disability” in place of “Down syndrome”.

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