Fetal heartbeat bill introduced in West Virginia House of Delegates

This file photo shows the West Virginia Capitol building in Charleston, W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill introduced Friday in the West Virginia House of Delegates would “effectively” ban abortion in West Virginia, according to the head of West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

House Bill 2915, sponsored by Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, would require doctors to conduct abdominal ultrasounds before performing abortions, and prohibits them from performing abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“Effectively, it’s a ban,” said Dr. Leo Brancazio, chair of the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

He said it would be extremely rare for a woman to know she was pregnant and get to an appointment before a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

He said fetal heartbeat can be detected about three weeks after conception, which is typically about five weeks after the date the woman’s last period ended. He said abdominal ultrasounds may take another week to detect the heartbeat.

Iowa passed a similar law, which was overturned by a judge last month, based on abortion protections in the Iowa Constitution.

Three months ago, West Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment to remove the right to abortion from their own constitution. That vote, in the November election, followed months-long campaigns by abortion rights and anti-abortion activists.

Abortion rights groups had warned that the amendment, which states, “Nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion,” would make way for further abortion restrictions, because it means that abortion rights groups couldn’t point to the state constitution if they wanted to take an abortion rights issue to court.

The national American Civil Liberties Union has said the Iowa bill was an attempt to override Roe v. Wade, by ultimately going to the Supreme Court.

Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU-WV, called West Virginia’s fetal heartbeat bill “the height of hypocrisy.”

“We just went through a long fight over abortion that divided our state,” he said. “During the Amendment No. 1 campaign, the proponents of Amendment No. 1 repeated over and over again that they were not seeking to limit access to abortion, that they were only concerned about taxpayer funding.

“Now some of those same people who swore up and down that they were not attempting to limit access to abortion have introduced a bill that would essentially make abortion completely inaccessible to women in West Virginia.”

In an interview prior to the election, Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, and a sponsor of the fetal heartbeat bill, had told MetroNews, “I don’t foresee the banning of abortion even being considered. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.”

While fetal heartbeat bills have gone nowhere in previous West Virginia legislative sessions, this one is co-sponsored by the new Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Neither Hanshaw nor Kessinger responded to inquiries Friday.

Erin Beck is a reported for The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va. Follow her on Twitter @3littleredbones.

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