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WV Senate committee advances abortion bill

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The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee took up House Bill 4588, most recently referred to as the abortion bill, on March 4.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, wanted to amend the bill to make it more "constitutional."

Palumbo, an attorney, said he wanted the bill to comply to other areas of the nation that have the same kind of litigation on their books.

"It's my understanding 40 states have passed a law similar to this and the vast majority implemented a restriction after 20 weeks," he said. "At least three decisions by courts in those states have all found the 20-week restriction has been unconstitutional."

The Legislative counsel said that was true, and there are currently pending litigation cases on the subject in Idaho and Georgia.

Palumbo wanted to amend the bill to say "24 weeks" as opposed to "20 weeks."

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, who also is a doctor, said post-fertilization actually is 22 weeks from a woman's last menstrual period, not the 20 weeks the bill currently discusses.

Under the bill, doctors performing the abortions illegally, or after the 20-week mark, would've been subject to a felony crime. 

The bill was amended to change the crime to a misdemeanor.

A  local obstetrician who came before the committee said there is literature that says a fetus doesn't feel pain after the 20-week threshold.

"You don't know what the individual situation is," said Luis Bracero, a doctor with Charleston Area Medical Center's Women's and Children's Hospital. "Do not criminalize doctors –allow women to make choice with their doctors and we'll have a healthier population in West Virginia."

Bracero said he has been a practicing doctor with women and children for nine years and has never seen a complication from an abortion.

"That's just total fantasy, that's not the reality," he said. "There are very few that occur."

Palumbo's amendment was rejected almost unanimously.

The bill will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it could be amended further.

Palumbo, who offered the amendment, is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.