W.Va. advocates weigh impact of abortion ruling

W.Va. advocates weigh impact of abortion ruling
Published: May. 3, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - News that the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade spurred protests in Washington D.C., and served as a call to mobilize for pro-choice and pro-life forces alike in West Virginia.

The Supreme Court case centers on a Mississippi law that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, but a leaked opinion Monday night shows a majority of the court may be ready to go much further by overturning Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion.

The West Virginia House of Delegates advanced a similar bill this winter, but the measure ultimately died in the Senate.

“We didn’t expect it until summer, but here it is and we are gearing up to mobilize people to make sure that abortion does not become illegal,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free.

The leaked draft takes on special meaning in West Virginia -- where a law remains on the book that criminalizes abortion.

That means West Virginia is one of 22 states where a decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could have immediate impact.

West Virginians For Life President Wanda Franz was part of the 1970s movement that helped keep that law on the books.

“Our position was that if there was ever an opportunity for us to go back to that law that it should stay there and be available,” she said. “So, indeed it has been and almost 50 years later we may see that it will spring back.”

Pomponio called the law draconian in that it was adopted from Virginia and pre-dates West Virginia’s founding.

The state’s only abortion provider -- Women’s Health Center of West Virginia -- said Tuesday that Roe v. Wade was only thing protecting access to abortion in West Virginia.

Pomponio believes there is an openness among lawmakers, even some Republicans, to at minimum decriminalize abortion should the leaked opinion become final.

“Just because this decision is in the pipeline, doesn’t mean that we can’t stop it from becoming the worst it can possibly be,” she said.

That’s why she called upon pro-choice advocates to call their representatives.

But Franz has the same message pro-life supporters, and it is the debate that she’s been longing for believing that Roe v. Wade took the question of abortion away from lawmakers.

“That isn’t the role of the judiciary,” Franz said. “I think we’re back on good constitutional footing here, and we’re able to begin to address that process, if in fact this is what the future brings.”

It remains unclear if Monday’s leak will expedite the court’s final opinion -- initially expected next month.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a press release Tuesday saying it is premature to discuss potential implications.

“As West Virginians know, I’m strongly pro-life and have called for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” he wrote. “When the Supreme Court’s final opinion is published, we will weigh in more formally and work closely with the legislature to protect life in all stages as much as we legally can under the law.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the leak “an attack on the independence of the Supreme Court,” and “yet another escalation in the radical left’s ongoing campaign to bully and intimidate federal judges.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued a statement saying in part, “If that leaked decision is ultimately the decision of the United States Supreme Court, it will result in a total ban in Kentucky.”

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