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Amendment 1 Has Passed; What Now?

CHARLESTON — The vote that added new language to the West Virginia Constitution specifically declaring women do not have a right to abortion and banning use of state funding for abortion procedures was closer than what women’s health groups thought it would be.

“We have a lot to be proud of. We contacted hundreds of thousands of voters in the field, on their screens, and by mail,” said Emily Thompson, field manager for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, in a Facebook post to supporters. “We built a strong network of volunteers who are ready to take this to the next level.”

Voters approved Amendment 1 on Nov. 6, which adds the following language to the constitution: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Previously, the constitution had no specific language regarding abortion.

Despite its enshrinement in the state Constitution, advocates for women’s health and other progressive rights groups believe the fight isn’t over, particularly for low-income women who need the services the most.

Rural Vs. Urban

Amendment 1’s passage was likely the first punch thrown in a fight between the state’s rural voters, who lean conservative and vote Republican even while still registered as Democrats, and progressive voters, who reside in the state’s largest cities and traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.

While there has always been tension between these two groups, it became more apparent during the 2018 general election when looking at how voters in the 55 counties voted on Amendment 1.

According to unofficial results distributed by county clerks to the West Virginia Secretary of State, Amendment 1 passed statewide with 51.71 percent voting for and 48.29 percent voting against, a difference of 3.42 percent. Amendment 1 carried every county but 11.

The top three counties against Amendment 1 were Monongalia County, where it failed by 61.72 percent; Jefferson County, where it failed 56.43 percent; and Kanawha County, where it failed by 55.25 percent. All three counties are among the state’s largest population centers.

Contrast that with the three counties where voters overwhelmingly voted for Amendment 1: Grant County, with 67.42 percent; Tyler County, with 62.77 percent; and Doddridge County, with 62.52 percent. Those counties are rural and are represented by Republicans in the West Virginia Legislature.

In four counties, the margin of victory for Amendment 1 was narrow. In Wood County, Amendment 1 only passed with a margin of .18 percent, or just 52 votes. It only passed in Braxton County by 39 votes. Amendment 1 came up short in Wetzel County with 50.51 percent voting against it.

The Next Step

Prior to the election, a coalition of groups rallied against Amendment 1 that was made up of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, West Virginia FREE and the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia. Now that the election is over, some of these organizations are regrouping.

“This will disproportionately impact women who already face enough barriers to health care. The people of West Virginia did not vote to ban abortion,” said Julie Warden, a spokeswoman for WV Free in a statement the night Amendment 1 passed. “While this is a sad day, we will not give up. The stakes are higher than ever, and we refuse to let politicians further strip West Virginians of their right to safe, affordable abortion care.”

“We cannot back, we cannot give up,” said Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the ACLU IN West Virginia, during a press conference Nov. 6. “We need to redouble our efforts to prevent any further erosion of women being able to access safe, affordable and legal abortion care.”

Tim Ward, spokesman for the Vote No on Amendment 1 coalition, chose not to address what the coalition’s next steps were, but comments by leaders of the organizations within the coalition reveal much anger directed at Democratic leaders in the West Virginia Legislature who voted for the joint resolution that put Amendment 1 on the ballot.

“Amendment 1 never would have made it on the ballot if it weren’t for the Democrats in the West Virginia Legislature who voted for SJR 12,” Thompson said in her Facebook post dated Tuesday. “If these men had not spit in the face of every single person in this state who can get pregnant, has had a difficult pregnancy, is a survivor of rape or incest, loves someone who was saved by abortion care, etc, then we would not be here right now.”

“Politicians have proven they will stop at nothing to limit abortion access and they don’t care who they hurt in the process,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE.

Do No Harm?

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is already preparing doctors for Amendment 1. The Bureau for Medical Services issued guidelines Nov. 9 for medical professionals who recommend abortion services for patients.

As of Nov. 6, the Bureau of Medical Services will only reimburse doctors through Medicaid for abortion services under three circumstances: If the physician believes there is a medical emergency to avert death of the mother as long as another physician concurs; If there is clear clinical medical evidence that the fetus has severe congenital defects or terminal disease and is not expected to live; and if the mother is a victim of incest or rape. Doctors will also have to fill out additional paperwork.

Opponents are quick to point out that Amendment 1 didn’t make abortion illegal, and that anyone with means can still receive abortion services for any reason. It’s low-income women who can’t afford abortion services without the help of Medicaid that would be affected.

With only one abortion clinic in West Virginia and with more hoops for doctors to jump through, there is fear that low-income women are being singled out by lawmakers.

“With so many other restrictions in places, this disproportionately impacts women already struggling to make ends meet — those who already face enough barriers to health care,” Pomponio said. “This will be devastating for women and families in West Virginia.”

The fight does not end here, she said.

“We are committed to ensuring every person has the right to control their bodies, their lives and their futures,” she said.

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