Abortion, Judiciary Budget Measures on West Virginia Ballot

Oct 25, 2018

Separate constitutional measures on West Virginia's Nov. 6 ballot would allow lawmakers to restrict or ban tax-payer funded abortions and have some control over the state judiciary's budget.

The Republican-led Legislature earlier this year approved a resolution to add a line to the state constitution that reads: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." Abortions in West Virginia would remain legal under federal law.

Opponents say it would put the issue in the hands of the Legislature, which could ban Medicaid-funded abortions in cases of rape, incest or when a woman or girl's health is at risk.

In 1993, the state Supreme Court struck down a Medicaid funding ban for abortions as unconstitutional.

The state Republican Party has rallied behind the amendment. Among opponents are WV Free, a reproductive health, rights and justice group, and the American Civil Liberties Union's state chapter.

The other amendment would allow the Legislature to decide each year whether to reduce the state courts' budget, but not less than 85 percent of the previous year's budget. It also would require the Supreme Court's chief justice to answer budget questions before lawmakers.

Opponents have said limiting the Supreme Court's budgetary control would infringe on its independence. The chief justice, in consultation with other justices, currently has constitutional autonomy in deciding how the system spends a $139 million annual budget.

During an ongoing impeachment process, some of the justices were accused of abusing this authority by failing to rein in excessive spending on lavish office renovations, business lunches and the personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The cases also raised questions about corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

Four justices were impeached by the state House of Delegates in August. The court's fifth justice resigned before the House impeachment vote took place.

Secretary of State Mac Warner agreed to buy newspaper advertisements containing the two proposed amendments' full texts after a retired state employee threatened to file a lawsuit, citing state law that requires the publication in at least one newspaper in all 55 counties. Warner agreed to the move to avoid costly litigation.