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West Virginia lawmakers pass dismemberment abortion ban

Karen Cross, West Virginians for Life legislative coordinator, addresses a pro-life rally at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Associated Press/Photo by Sam Owens/Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia lawmakers pass dismemberment abortion ban

The West Virginia state legislature voted yesterday to ban a common abortion procedure that terminates a baby’s life by ripping him or her apart limb-by-limb in the mother’s womb.

The House of Delegates passed the legislation 86-13, and the Senate approved it 24-9. The bill bans dismemberment abortions, a second trimester procedure pro-life advocates describe as especially “barbaric.” The abortion method also is known as “dilation and evacuation.”

State Sen. Dave Sypolt and Del. Lynne Arvon, both Republicans, sponsored the Senate and House bills promoted by West Virginians for Life (WVFL) and based on model National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) legislation.

“West Virginians are pro-life, and it is reflected in their representatives,” said WVFL legislative coordinator Karen Cross. “Like their constituents, most of West Virginia legislators are appalled that anyone would dismember a living, fully formed unborn baby.”

The legislation bans dismemberment abortions unless the abortionist has already killed the child. It also includes an exception for medical emergencies. Abortionists who violate the law could have their medical licenses revoked.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, hasn’t indicated whether he will sign the legislation. When asked previously, he said he would decide once the bill was finalized.

Tomblin has a track record of vetoing pro-life legislation. He vetoed 20 week abortion bans two years in a row, over what he claimed were constitutionality concerns. Lawmakers overrode his veto last year, and the GOP-led legislature appears poised to do the same if he tries to use his veto pen again.

The bill’s opponents said it would interfere with the safest second trimester abortion procedure available. They also questioned its constitutionality. But pro-life activists note dismemberment abortions are equally as brutal as partial-birth abortions, a procedure already illegal in the United States.

In his 2007 opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the partial-birth abortion ban, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy described dismemberment abortions as “laden with the power to devalue human life.”

Similar dismemberment bans passed in Kansas and Oklahoma last year, but courts have blocked both.

Despite judicial opposition, the legislation remains a top priority for NRLC’s state-level efforts.

“When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, NRLC’s director of state legislation. “The groundbreaking passage in West Virginia of the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act has the potential to transform the debate when people realize that living unborn children are being killed by being torn limb-from-limb."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtney Crandell Courtney is a former WORLD correspondent.

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