West Virginia's new abortion bill 'does absolutely nothing' but threaten doctors


'This bill does absolutely nothing. It proposes to make something illegal that is already illegal,' a state lawmaker said.

West Virginia already severely restricts access to abortion. The state mandates that abortion patients receive "counseling" explicitly designed to deter them from seeking an abortion. There's a 24-hour waiting period. There's a parental notification law. And there's a ban on receiving abortions after 20 weeks.

The "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act," which recently passed the state Senate, is just another thinly veiled assault on abortion rights.

While the bill purports to add penalties for doctors not providing adequate medical care to infants born "during an abortion," state lawmakers, legal experts, and abortion rights advocates have all stated that it's nothing more than political posturing.

As state Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat, pointed out, the bill is unnecessary because the murder of a child is already a crime in West Virginia — as it is anywhere else.

"A child born alive who would somehow be killed, that would be murder. It would clearly be murder, there's nobody doing that and if they do do it they're in jail," Romano stated in testimony preceding the Senate vote.

He also noted the bill "isn't going to change anything."

West Virginia's proposed law already passed the state's House of Delegates, where some Republicans outright admitted the bill was more about sending a political message than solving a real problem, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Democratic Del. John Doyle said at the time, "This bill does absolutely nothing. It proposes to make something illegal that is already illegal."

Attorney and professor Neil Siegel told Politifact, "There is no lack of statutory or constitutional law that would protect babies through a live birth or a failed abortion."

But the West Virginia bill does work to intimidate abortion providers in the state, chipping away at their role in helping patients decide what's best for them by threatening a substantial penalty — the loss of a medical license.

The idea pushed by Republicans that "infanticide" is a common occurrence at the hands of abortion providers is entirely a myth.

Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an abortion provider and advocate with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Vox in a 2019 story on the GOP's born-alive bills that she had never even heard of a case of a child born after an attempted abortion.

"This is part of the false narrative around [these bills] and abortion later in pregnancy, she said.

But that hasn't stopped anti-abortion lawmakers from bringing these bills up both at the federal level and in several states, including Arizona and North Carolina.

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the reproductive rights research group Guttmacher Institute, told AP these sorts of bills are often used to "gin up the base in some way."

"We are looking at probably more of a political issue being raised rather than something that's substantive," she said.

Vox reported that bills such as the one in West Virginia may be part of a broader strategy by Republicans to stir up support among social conservatives who oppose abortion and drum up their votes.

Some Democrats in West Virginia said they thought the bill was more or less meant to function as a basis for attack ads against those who voted against it leading into 2020, according to AP.

And with Donald Trump repeating the lie that babies are "ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth" and that Democrats "don't mind executing babies after birth," this GOP offensive likely won't stop anytime soon.

In the end, the West Virginia bill is about discouraging people from seeking abortions, stigmatizing those who have abortions later in pregnancy, and discouraging doctors from performing the procedure, period. It does nothing to ensure the health of mothers or babies.

The bill now heads to anti-abortion Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has already said he would sign it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.