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Bill aimed at eliminating taxpayer funding of abortions gets public hearing in West Virginia House

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo)A woman holds a sign in the rain as abortion rights protestors arrive to prepare for a counter protest against March for Life anti-abortion demonstrators on the 39th anniversary of the Roe vs Wade decision.

The West Virginia House of Delegates has held a public hearing on a bill that would eliminate Medicaid funding for abortions.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee heard comments on House Bill 4012, which would end taxpayer funding for abortions except in cases when the mother's life is in danger.

According to The Seattle Times, the majority of four dozens speakers raised their objections to the bill, with some calling on the lawmakers to instead focus on more pressing issues such as poverty or the prescription drug epidemic.

Supporters of the bill have reportedly cited various religious reasons and said that the cost should not be passed on to taxpayers.

Fayette County Republican Delegate Kayla Kessinger, the bill's lead sponsor, said after the hearing that to "force West Virginians to pay for a procedure that they are morally and conscientiously opposed to is a violation of their rights of conscience."

Critics of the bill cited recent private polling data indicating that a majority of West Virginians support Medicaid-funded abortions, but supporters cited their own version of the data, which they suggest show the exact opposite.

State data has indicated that 1,560 Medicaid-funded abortions were performed in West Virginia last year, costing nearly $330,000. The latest figure was reportedly three times higher than in 2013, when there were 502 Medicaid-funded abortions, at a cost of nearly $280,000.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that opposes abortion restrictions, noted that West Virginia is one of 17 states whose policies direct Medicaid payments for abortions.

Before the bill was passed by the House Health and Human Resources Committee, Democrats tried to amend it to permit funding abortions in cases of rape or incest, but their attempts were shot down by Republicans.

At the end of the hearing, House Judiciary Chairman John Shott said that the bill is likely to appear on his committee's agenda by the end of the week.

A similar law was reportedly struck down by The West Virginia Supreme Court in 1993, saying it was discriminatory against low-income women.

Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a measure that was aimed at amending the state Constitution to get around the 1993 ruling.

Senate Joint Resolution 12, which declares that nothing in the state Constitution protects the right to an abortion or requires the funding of the procedure, was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a voice vote on Monday afternoon.

If adopted by a two-thirds majority by both chambers of the Legislature, the resolution must then be approved by the general public to ratify it as a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

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