|The House Health & Human Resources Committee met for two hours Thursday to discuss four bills, but the focus was on abortion.
Delegates took time to discuss HB 4004, which would add a new article to Chapter 16, limiting abortion to 15 weeks of gestation with the exceptions of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. The medical emergency is described as any condition that could cause death or severe impairment.
The bill specifically excludes any medical emergency caused by psychological or emotional conditions. Severe abnormality of the fetus is described as being incompatible with life outside the womb. Penalties are set forth for licensed medical professionals who violate the code, including loss of license and criminal sanctions.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer said Roe vs. Wade is the law, and the proposed bill is a limitation of that law. She also pointed out that the bill could be an invitation for litigation toward licensed medical professionals. Counsel agreed that it could create a cause of action.
The committee passed an amendment that changes the term physician to licensed medical professional and clarifies that it is not considered abortion if a fetus dies of natural causes.
Delegate Lisa Zuckoff questioned the medical emergency of a pregnant woman contemplating suicide due to pregnancy, possibly one caused by rape or incest. Counsel responded that the situation would not count as a medical emergency under the bill. An amendment to include psychological and emotional conditions in the definition of medical emergency was proposed.
Delegate Danielle Walker called witness Ash Orr, who told a personal story about a high-risk pregnancy and a decline in both mental and physical health, all at age 22 while in college.
“I wouldn’t be here today” without the ability to obtain a 16-week abortion, Orr said.
Delegate Walker then called on the Rev. Emily Harden to describe her experiences with abortion as a hospital chaplain. She said she often counsels patients who want to have an abortion even for wanted pregnancies and often after emergency circumstances.
“I am a proudly pro-choice faith leader,” she said, noting she provides support, grace, and hope.
“We have 7,000 kids in foster care, so one of my concerns is unwanted children in West Virginia,” Delegate Fleishauer said.
Delegate Amy Summers responded by asking her, “Are unwanted babies better off dead?”
Delegate Fleischauer explained the action would compel people to have babies they don’t want, forcing them to bear a child against their will and adding to the psychological trauma, which could include drinking and drug use. The amendment to add psychological and emotional conditions to the definition of medical emergency failed.
Another amendment was rejected to change the word “woman” to “patient” throughout the bill so it would be consistent with other parts of code.
An amendment to add rape and incest to the exceptions in the bill was proposed, with Delegate Danielle Walker telling the committee, “I am a rape survivor. It took me almost 20 years to claim to be a rape survivor. This is for the person who can’t talk to anyone but their physician.”
Delegate Fleischauer said the two exceptions are in laws in many states and would put West Virginia in the mainstream by adding the amendment, but it failed. Another amendment to take the harsh criminal penalties out of the bill was rejected.
Delegate Mike Pushkin told the committee, “I’m very uncomfortable making this decision for somebody else. In most cases, something has happened. I’m sorry we spent our first day in committee on this subject.”
While there were almost no comments in favor of the bill, it passed easily on a voice vote.
The committee passed strike and insert language for HB 4005 that adds a new section relating to fetal body parts and defining terms. It prohibits the sale of fetal body parts resulting from an induced abortion and the transport of fetal body parts except for final lawful disposition. Delegate Walker added that federal law already prohibits the sale of fetal tissue across state lines.
The committee passed the first two bills passed quickly. They are:
Committee substitute for HB 4059 clarifies that employees who directly report to a commissioner within the Department of Health and Human Resources are not eligible for classified exempt service. The committee substitute clarified that it is the Commissioner’s decision to hire deputies from civil service or not.
HB 4060 repealed outdated sections that created coalitions for diabetes management, responsible pain management, and palliative care. The coalitions have fulfilled their responsibilities and their statutes have expired.