Pro-Choice West Virginians: 'If It Can Happen In Texas, It Can Happen In Your State'
It’s now almost impossible to legally access an abortion in Texas, as a new law bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. This time frame is before most women even know they’re pregnant.
This news has devastated reproductive rights advocates in West Virginia, like Katie Quinonez. She’s the executive director of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, which is the only clinic to provide abortions in the state. The clinic is based in Charleston.
“I wish I could say that I was more surprised. But this is really coming after a decade's long battle to erase abortion access in the South and in the Midwest,” Qunonez said.
At least seven other states have adopted “heartbeat” bills, so called for the point at which a fetal heartbeat may be detected. West Virginia legislators have introduced this kind of legislation multiple times, without success.
But Quinonez says it was surprising when the U.S. Supreme Court decided on the matter -- ruling that it wouldn't block the law in Texas.
“They just completely disregarded decades of precedent related to our access to abortion care and our right to bodily autonomy,” she said.
Previous court decisions have fallen in line with the landmark Roe v. Wade case of 1973, which made abortion legal for the first time across the nation.
The Supreme Court’s latest ruling was unexpected, even to those who want to end abortion, like Wanda Franz with West Virginians for Life.
“They did allow the law to go into effect, which for pro-life legislation has not been the norm,” she said.
However, the court’s decision has not emboldened Franz. She doesn’t see this as a done deal.
“After 50 years of dealing with court cases...we don't presume to determine what the courts are going to come up with next.”
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its own challenge to the Texas law.
Within West Virginia, Franz says she won't present a heartbeat bill to legislators for the upcoming session. Instead she’s working with state lawmakers on a bill that would outlaw abortions on the basis of potential disability.
She’s confident that bill will pass without court interference.
“We're very proud of our legislators, and our leadership here in the state, for their support for the dignity of every human person,” Franz said.
This slow and steady approach has paid off for Franz. Every year, with almost no fail, these laws that chip away at reproductive rights are adopted. These pro-life successes include banning abortions after 20 weeks, requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions, and cutting off Medicaid funds to help low-income women pay for abortions.
“I've only ever seen one abortion bill not pass,” said Alisa Clements the West Virginia director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Clements says the political climate has only become more favorable to the anti-abortion movement, given the Republican supermajorities in both West Virginia chambers.
“If it can happen in Texas, it can happen in your state,” Clements said.
Since the passing of the new Texas law, at least eight male Republican lawmakers have said on social media that they’d support a similar bill.
Outside of the state legislature, West Virginia has plenty of pro-lifers. The Washington Post reports a OB-GYN doctor in Charleston, Byron Calhoun, is a well known anti-abortion activist. In the state, 58 percent of adults in 2014 thought abortion should be illegal in most cases, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey feels the same way. He recently signed on in support of a case directly seeking to overturn Roe v Wade. Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear that case from Mississippi, which says it’s a state’s right to decide on abortions.
West Virginia women living outside of Charleston already have to travel for abortion care. Clements says if a statewide ban took effect, other clinics in nearby states are ready to take West Virginia clients.
“We have been preparing our center staff in those states for quite a while, actually, in light of this happening,” Clements said.