CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A law prohibiting abortions 20 weeks after conception took effect Tuesday in West Virginia, despite Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin twice vetoing the ban over concerns that a court could strike it down.
Amid the Democratic governor’s worries over constitutionality, the state’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has vowed to defend the ban against potential legal action.
It’s unclear if, or when, that kind of challenge might surface.
Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said a lawsuit can be brought by an individual woman or a doctor on behalf of patients.
In 2011, the last year with data available, there were only six abortions after 20 weeks in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The ACLU has called the ban unconstitutional. But the group cannot discuss potential litigation, Meinig said Tuesday.
The Republican Legislature passed the ban overwhelmingly this year. Democratic leadership cleared a similar bill last year. Both times, Tomblin used his veto pen, though he still reaffirmed his anti-abortion record after both decisions.
In March, lawmakers easily overrode the governor’s veto to cement the ban into law.
The new law provides some exemptions for women in medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.
Abortions would still be prohibited when women have psychological conditions that could lead them to hurt or kill themselves.
Even for abortions that would be exempted, the bill requires doctors to terminate pregnancies in a way that gives “the best opportunity for the fetus to survive,” unless the process would kill or irreparably harm the mother.
Doctors and other medical workers who perform banned abortions could face discipline from a medical board, and potentially lose their licenses. Women who get abortions wouldn’t be punished.
The bill is based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, which is disputed in medical research.
Proponents have cited moral grounds. Opponents say it’s unconstitutional and intrusive into doctor-patient relationships.
Both bills resemble a law struck down in Arizona in 2013 that the U.S. Supreme Court later decided not to reconsider.
Eleven states have some version of a 20-week ban, according to the abortion rights nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.
WV FREE, which advocates for abortion rights, says it will focus on access to care as the law takes effect. That could mean providing financial assistance or helping women travel out of state, said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, the group’s executive director.
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