Residents weigh in on West Virginia abortion bill at hearing

By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Legislation to eliminate Medicaid funding for abortions in West Virginia is a discriminatory attack on poor women, several speakers at a public hearing said Monday.
Some critics of the bill currently before the House Judiciary Committee urged lawmakers to instead focus on more pressing issues such as poverty or the prescription drug epidemic.
The overwhelming majority of the four dozen speakers opposed the bill. The bill’s lead sponsor, Fayette County Republican Delegate Kayla Kessinger, attended the hearing along with House Speaker Tim Armstead and several other delegates.
The bill would ban Medicaid-funded abortions unless the procedure is needed to save a mother’s life. The bill is part of a national movement by Republican-led Legislatures considering an array of abortion legislation.
Kessinger said after the hearing that to “force West Virginians to pay for a procedure that they are morally and conscientiously opposed to is a violation of their rights of conscience.”
Bill opponent Amanda Schwartz of Winfield said the legislation is not about morality or protecting taxpayer money.
“This bill’s sole purpose is to score political points with religious conservatives in West Virginia by passing a measure that devalues poor women’s health care,” Schwartz said. “It is wrong and unworthy of West Virginians to use poor women as political pawns for individual gains.”
But Mary Anne Buchanan, a program director for West Virginians for Life, noted some people above the poverty line were added to Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that opposes abortion restrictions, West Virginia is among 17 states whose policies direct Medicaid payments for abortions.
State data shows 1,560 Medicaid-funded abortions were done in West Virginia last year, more than triple the number from 2013.
Julie Pratt of Charleston said the legislation “singles out and discriminates against the state’s most vulnerable women” and “diverts the Legislature’s precious time away from other pressing problems, like the opioid crisis.”
The Rev. Marquita L. Hutchens, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, said unemployment, a lack of education and the opioid epidemic has ravaged much of the state’s adult population. West Virginia leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.
“Help the young who don’t want and can’t care for a child that is thrown into their lives,” Hutchens, an opponent of the bill, told lawmakers. “Help them get the time to become educated, to become good citizens of West Virginia, to stay in West Virginia so that they can find good jobs and be productive in their states. Do not beat the poor into the ground, but build them up.”