WHEELING - A pair of bills introduced in the West Virginia Senate would make it more difficult to obtain an abortion in the Mountain State.
One measure, Senate Bill 388, would ban the termination of pregnancies more than 20 weeks after fertilization, while the other, Senate Bill 496, would prevent health plans offered through West Virginia's insurance exchange from offering coverage for most abortions.
Exemptions to the ban on abortion coverage would include terminating pregnancies that result from rape, threaten the life of the mother or in case of incest where the mother is a minor. Women would be required to purchase optional, "supplemental" coverage for such procedures under the law.
If the bill passes, West Virginia would join 24 other states with laws prohibiting insurance coverage for abortions in state exchanges.
Meanwhile, the abortion ban bill states there is "substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by (20) weeks after fertilization" and the state has a "compelling interest" in protecting the lives unborn children from the stage when they are capable of feeling pain.
Anyone who performs an abortion more than 20 weeks after fertilization would face at least a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. The bill specifically provides that no penalty may be assessed against a woman upon whom such an abortion is performed.
The bill also would authorize the Legislature to appropriate funds to fight any potential challenges to the law, in the form of a "litigation fund" for which the state also could accept donations, gifts or grants.
Supporters of the bill include West Virginians for Life, which is planning a pro-life rally at noon Tuesday in lower rotunda of the Capitol Building in Charleston. But the National Women's Law Center argues that state bans on insurance coverage for abortions endanger women's health by failing to provide exemptions for potentially life-shortening medical conditions, and that obtaining supplemental coverage for a specific procedure is "impractical."
The insurance bill's sponsors include five Democrats and three Republicans - Sens. Sam Cann, D-Harrison; Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire; Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell; Mike Green, D-Raleigh; and Clark Barnes, R-Randolph. Prezioso and Carmichael also are sponsors of the abortion ban bill, joined by Sens. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; Chris Walters, R-Putnam; and Bill Cole, R-Mercer.
Both bills face double committee assignments. Introduced Jan. 21, the "20 week" proposal has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it has yet to be placed on the agenda, and the Committee on Finance. The insurance measure, introduced Wednesday, has been referred to the Committee on Banking and Insurance and the Committee on the Judiciary.
Bills must emerge from committee in their house of origin by Feb. 23 to allow time for the three required readings.