Veto Override in W.Va. a Victory for State-Level Late-Term Abortion Bans

The Republican-dominated West Virginia Legislature’s decision to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s (D) veto of a bill that would have banned late-term abortions was accomplished with very little political fanfare.

The state House voted March 4 to override the veto 77-16, one day after Gov. Tomblin vetoed it. Only five members of the Senate voted against the override the next day.

One of them was Ronald Miller (D).

"I'm not sure we did the right thing in overriding the governor's veto," Miller told WTRF-TV in Wheeling, W.Va.  "I would prefer us to talk about this. It's going to cost the state money.”

West Virginia is the 11th state to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. While the state’s law provides some exemptions for women facing medical emergencies, it does not provide an exemption for victims of rape or incest.

Proponents of the legislation base it on the belief that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Hence the name of the bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in the West Virginia Legislature before Gov. Tomblin’s veto.

Tomblin, even though he has described himself as being pro-life, said he vetoed the legislation because of constitutional concerns.

“As reflected in my voting record during my time in the Legislature, I believe there is no greater gift of love than the gift of life. As governor, I must take into consideration a number of factors when reviewing legislation, including its constitutionality,” Tomblin said in a statement.

“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.”

This was the second year Tomblin vetoed the legislation and the first time in 30 years a West Virginia legislature has overriden a gubernatorial veto.

Members of West Virginia FREE, a reproductive health, rights and justice organization, applauded Gov. Tomblin’s decision to veto the legislation.

“HB 2568 would have taken away a woman’s ability to make extremely personal reproductive health care decisions,” said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, a pro-choice organization.

“These decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her provider, not by legislators. Politicians shouldn’t play doctor. The governor made the right choice in vetoing this bill. We are heartened by his decision to place his trust in the women of West Virginia and the health care community.”

However, Tomblin’s support in Charleston, West Virginia’s capital city, is as thin as the man in Les Miserables who was “obliged to put lead in his shoes so as not to be blown away by the wind.”

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has expressed approval for the legislature's actions and described himself as “disappointed” with Tomblin's decision to veto the pain-capable legislation for the second year in a row.

“It is long past time that limits are placed on abortions in West Virginia,” Morrisey said.

Not only does he approve of the legislation, Morrisey is willing to defend the law if it is taken to court.

“Currently West Virginia law does not limit how late an abortion can occur. While no one can predict with certainty how a court will rule, I believe that there are strong, good-faith arguments that this legislation is constitutional and should be upheld by the courts,” Morrisey said in a statement following the Tomblin veto.

This is one more battle lost for pro-choice advocates who are being forced to rapidly shift their focus from one state to another.

Pro-life forces began 2015 with a move at congressional approval of a federal law banning late-term abortions. Although it won easy approval in the U.S. House, the proposal was tabled under threat of a presidential veto.

No problem. Now those pushing late-term abortion bans have shifted their efforts to state legislatures, which are most often controlled by Republicans.

However, political party labels or whether one is “pro-choice” or “pro-life” doesn't seem to matter much in this fight. A Knights of Columbus-Marist poll released in January showed most Americans are still very uncomfortable with abortion.

The poll showed 84 percent of those surveyed want significant restrictions on abortion, and would limit it to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy. This included 69 percent who identified themselves as “pro-choice.”

“The survey makes clear that the American people understand that abortion is far too common, and causes great harm. And even those who consider themselves ‘pro-choice’ want it reduced significantly,” said Carl Anderson, the chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus.

“It is time that our lawmakers respond to this public consensus with appropriate legislation,” he added.

New Mexico could be the next state to ban abortions after the 20th week. The New Mexico House has approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate.

"It is common sense," Republican Rep. Kelly Fajardo told KOB-TV. "Other states have done it; we're not doing anything different or out of the box.”