The governor said in a statement that the legislation was unconstitutional. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that women have a right to seek abortion up until the fetus would be viable outside the womb, around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
“I believe there is no greater gift of love than the gift of life,” Tomblin said in a statement. “As governor, I must take into consideration a number of factors when reviewing legislation, including its constitutionality. At the start of the regular session, I urged members of the Legislature to consider a compromise that would help us establish legislation that would pass constitutional muster. Having received a substantially similar bill to the one vetoed last year on constitutional grounds, I must veto House Bill 2568.”
West Virginia’s Republican-controlled House and Senate passed the bill with overwhelming majorities in February. The legislature can override Tomblin’s veto with a simple majority and has until March 14, the end of the legislative session, to do so. According to local newspaper The Charleston Gazette, the House is already planing a vote to override the governor’s decision. It is expected that the vote will take place today (Wednesday).
Under Roe v. Wade, abortion is legal up until the point of viability, which typically occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Twenty-week bans — also often called “fetal pain bans,” since they’re based on the scientifically inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain after that point — seek to narrow that window. It’s an effective method of gradually chipping away at women’s reproductive rights.
Women’s health advocates strongly oppose such legislation, arguing that it ignores the unique health circumstances that influence women’s decisions. Abortions after 20 weeks are extremely rare, representing just 1.5 percent of all abortion procedures nationwide, but the women who need later abortion care are typically individuals in dire circumstances — like impoverished women who struggle to get to a clinic earlier, or women who discover serious health issues and are forced to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy.
“The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens in complex circumstances where a wanted pregnancy has gone tragically wrong,” Melissa Reed, vice president for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said Tuesday in response to the West Virginia bill. “These are the kind of situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.”
Most Americans are opposed to such extreme bans on abortion, with about 60 percent of registered voters supporting access to abortion at 20 weeks. Still, at least ten Republican-led states have enacted 20-week bans in recent years, and at least 12 different state-level fetal pain bans were brought forward in 2014 alone. The U.S. House of Representatives was poised to vote on a nationwide ban in January, but GOP leadership abruptly canceled that vote after some lawmakers worried the legislation was too extreme.