West Virginia Senate advances proposed constitutional amendment declaring there is 'no right to abortion'

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)Pro-choice protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 2, 2016.

The West Virginia Senate has passed a resolution that seeks to amend the state Constitution to declare that abortion is not recognized as a right in the state.

Senate Joint Resolution 12 was initially approved by the Senate on Tuesday and passed by a vote of 25–9 on Friday.

According to WV News, the resolution seeks to amend the constitution to state that "nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."

"The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother," it continued.

It would need to pass the House of Delegates by a two-thirds vote before it will be voted on by the citizens of West Virginia.

State Sen. Robert Karnes said that the resolution was modeled after a Tennessee amendment that passed a voter referendum in 2014. The Tennessee amendment allows state leaders to place restrictions on abortions in certain circumstances.

Karnes expressed hope that SJ12 would help reverse a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that required taxpayers to pay for elective abortions. He noted that the amendment would allow only the state Legislature to determine what type of abortion procedures would be legal.

West Virginia is one of 17 states that are required to fund elective abortions through Medicaid. State health data has indicated that taxpayers had paid nearly $330,000 for 1,560 abortions through Medicaid in 2017.

SJ12 could pave the way for another measure proposed in the House of Delegates. House Bill 4012, which went on a public hearing at the House last week, seeks to eliminate taxpayer funding for abortions except in cases when the mother's life is in danger.

Critics of the bill had contended that the bill is unconstitutional, while supporters argued that the cost of abortions should not be passed on to the taxpayers.

Some speakers who opposed the measure cited recent private polling data suggesting that a majority of people in West Virginia support Medicaid-funded abortions, while supporters presented their own version, which they suggest show the exact opposite.

Before HB4012 was approved by the House Health and Human Resources Committee, Democrats tried to amend the measure to allow funding abortions in cases of rape or incest, but the attempt was shot down by Republicans.

The bill contains exceptions in the case of "medical emergency," but it would only apply when the mother could die or be seriously impaired. It would not apply to mothers who are suicidal or experiencing only psychological distress.

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