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Health Not Politics: Don’t Play Politics with West Virginia Women’s Health

Last week the West Virginia Senate prioritized politics over women’s health, voting to pass Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 12, which attempts to nullify existing constitutional protections for a woman’s right to abortion and take away abortion coverage from those who need it the most.

SJR12 attempts to change the West Virginia Constitution by adding a new section that says “Nothing in the Constitution protects or secures the right to abortion or requires funding of an abortion.”  This is an attempt to get rid of both the strong protections for abortion that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has already recognized, and the insurance coverage for medically necessary abortion provided to women enrolled in the Medicaid program in West Virginia.

Specifically, some members of the West Virginia Senate are trying to undo a court decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from twenty-five years ago. In that case, the court held that the West Virginia Constitution provides greater protection for abortion than the U.S. Constitution, and held invalid a state law that restricted insurance coverage of abortion for women in Medicaid.

The West Virginia Constitution – as it currently stands – makes certain abortion restrictions that are permissible in other states unconstitutional in West Virginia. Recent challenges to abortion restrictions in other states show how important this protection can be in striking down burdensome requirements. For example, recently in Florida, a circuit court held that a law requiring a mandatory delay of 24 hours before abortion was unconstitutional under Florida’s state constitution.

The proposed constitutional amendment also creates an unresolvable conflict within the Constitution itself. The West Virginia Constitution also provides basic protections for equality, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. SJR12 would permit discrimination against West Virginia women seeking abortion – a procedure that only women, not men, require – in in violation of this principle. 

Likewise, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals based its decision on various provisions of the West Virginia Constitution which protected the health and safety of its citizens. That language would remain, and continue to provide protection for abortion access and Medicaid coverage of abortion, setting up a conflict between different sections, such as those that provide for a right to safety. The court considered examples of medical conditions which may necessitate an abortion, such as a severe bleeding disorder or premature placenta separation.  These concerns about women’s health and safety still exist today, setting up a conflict between SJR12 and this constitutional guarantee of safety.

Also, the court also indicated the need to be impartial in health care coverage for pregnant women, stating that once the legislature “chooses to enter the constitutionally protected area of choice, it must do so with genuine indifference.” If SJR12 passes, however, women covered under Medicaid would be guaranteed coverage of maternity care, but would be prohibited from obtaining coverage of abortion care.

Not only does SJR12 run counter to the state constitution, but it is the wrong focus for the West Virginia Legislature. West Virginians want good jobs and healthy families – not politically motivated attacks on health care.  West Virginia women have relied on this coverage for twenty-five years – and 65% of West Virginia voters agree that Medicaid coverage should include abortion.

SJR12 could soon be up for a vote in the West Virginia House. Oppose SJR12 and show politicians that they can’t play politics with women’s health.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.