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W.Va. Abortion And Disabilities Act Takes Effect

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West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Medical instruments and supplies used in abortions.

A new West Virginia law regarding abortion and disabilities went into effect Friday.

Titled “The Unborn Child With Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act,” the law prohibits licensed medical professionals from performing abortions if the fetus has a disability, unless there is a medical emergency or there is a non-medically viable fetus.

Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, said the law is about protecting the sanctity of an unborn life.

“Sadly, we live in a society where a lot of times life is viewed as disposable, especially when something like a prenatal diagnosis occurs during a pregnancy,” Kessinger said. “A lot of times there's a push by the medical community that abortion is the compassionate approach. But I don't believe that's the case.”

Though Down syndrome is in the title, the law applies more broadly to other disabilities.

Katie Quinonez is the Executive Director of the Women's Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only remaining abortion provider. Quinonez said the law will create a stressful relationship between medical providers and patients.

“It's allowing politicians to directly interfere with the clinician-patient relationship,” Quinonez said. “Patients should be able to be completely honest and open with their doctors. And now they're going to be forced to potentially withhold information from the people providing them with healthcare in order to get the procedure that they need.”

Quinonez said the politically motivated law denies a woman her bodily autonomy.

“This bill has nothing to do with protecting people with disabilities, including Down syndrome. This bill has everything to do with stopping people from getting abortions,” Quinonez said. “Politicians have now stooped to a new low by exploiting people with disabilities, for the simple purpose of promoting their forced birth agenda.”

Kessinger said an unborn life that can not make decisions for itself also needs protection.

“It's my position that any moral society would deem that it is incumbent upon us to be a voice for the voiceless,” Kessinger said. “We must be an advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves.”

The bill requires physicians to provide information to women with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and the effects it could potentially have.

Quinonez pointed out that this law goes into effect as the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. West Virginia currently has a pre-Roe abortion ban in its state criminal code. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, abortion could be completely outlawed in West Virginia. A decision is expected as soon as this month.

Government Reporter, ryohe@wvpublic.org, 304-634-8123

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