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Proposed Amendment to State Constitution Spikes Controversy

By Laura Buchanan
On November 5, 2018

This election West Virginians will find a few other things on the ballot besides just the names of candidates.

Two amendments are to be voted on in the election, and one has created quite a stir, Amendment No. 1: No Constitutional right to abortion Amendment. From this title alone, it is really no wonder that the amendment has got people up in arms, but the Summary of Purpose does little to quell pro-choice voters.

According to the summary, the amendment is to “clarify that nothing in the Constitution of West Virginia secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” This may sound as if the state is trying to make abortion illegal, but that is not the case. What the public is voting on is whether or not the state should have to pay for abortions.

In her op-ed for Charleston Gazette-Mail, Sharon Lewis, the executive director of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, says the amendment would be “devastating” for women in that it would take away their ability to have legal and safe abortions in the state. Lewis argues that the amendment is intent on outlawing abortion with no exceptions.   

House of Delegates Judiciary Chairman John Shott tried to clarify the confusion surrounding the amendment by writing a letter. In it he explains the passing of this amendment “does not outlaw abortions.” Its intent is to remove “the requirement that the taxpayers pay for all abortions demanded by Medicaid recipients.” In this letter Shott goes on to say that anyone wanting an abortion can obtain one if they are “willing to pay for it.” 

This seems clear enough – taxpayers are not going to pay for abortions any longer. According to Shott’s letter, the passing of this amendment would revive a provision of state law that allows for Medicaid funds to be used for abortion in cases of serious medical injury or risk of death to the mother, if the mother is a victim of incest or rape, or if the baby has “severe congenital defects, a terminal disease, or is not expected to be delivered.”  

With this in mind, it appears that West Virginia has taken into consideration extenuating circumstances that may require an abortion, but some argue that it is discriminatory against lower income women. 

West Virginia has two laws on the books in regards to abortion, one restricting Medicaid funding for abortion and the other criminalizing it. Neither law is currently in effect due to federal and state rulings that declared them unconstitutional under the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. 

In an explanation of how the amendment came to pass, BallotPedia adds more confusion to the topic by saying that on Feb. 8 “the Senate rejected changes to the amendment to make exception for abortion in cases of rape or incest, or if determined necessary to save the life of the the mother.” This is a contradiction to what Shott said in his letter. 

According to Wanda Franz, President of West Virginians for Life, the phrase “nothing in the Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion” was included as a way of making it known that the state would not be addressing the “abortion issue.” In addition, West Virginians for Life’s “Yes On 1 WV” website adds that the reason for the amendment is “appropriate responsibility for control over the funding of abortion.”

When it comes to abortion, the topic is always going to be heated. There are debates on a woman’s rights versus that of an unborn child’s, when life is determined, when abortion should be allowed, and so on, but the fact is this Amendment is up to vote now and it can and will affect a lot of women in our state. In order to make the best decision that represents your beliefs and views, it is best to research the issue and not just read the often biased news articles and social media posts. Form your own opinion instead of being swayed by the loudest voice. 

This story will be updated as necessary.

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