[JURIST] West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin [official website] on Friday vetoed [statement] an abortion bill [text] that would have prohibited abortions later than 20 weeks after conception. The House passed the bill [AP report] by a vote of 85-15 with two delegates not participating. The bill passed the West Virginia Senate a few days earlier. West Virginia would have been the first Democrat-controlled state [WP report] to approve a 20-week ban on abortion. Tomblin noted in his statement that the veto was used because he was
Advised, by not only attorneys from the legislature, but through my own legal team that this bill is unconstitutional. The bill is also problematic because it unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship. All patients, particularly expectant mothers, require the best, most unfettered medical judgment and advice from their physicians regarding treatment options. The medical community has made it clear to me that the criminal penalties this bill imposes will impede that advice, and those options, to the detriment of the health and safety of expectant mothers.
The bill resembled an Arizona law that was struck down by a federal appeals court. Its overwhelming acceptance by both Democratically controlled legislative bodies sparked intense controversy among West Virginia democrats.
The debate over 20-week abortion bans is the latest development in the ongoing reproductive rights controversy [JURIST backgrounder] in the US. A number of states have proposed laws to make abortions illegal after 20-weeks and the US government has grappled with the constitutionality of a federal law banning abortion procedures 20 weeks after conception. In February the Mississippi House approved [JURIST report] a 20-week abortion ban law. In January the US Supreme Court declined [JURIST report] to rule on Arizona’s attempt to revive its 20-week ban on abortions after having been stuck down [JURIST report] on constitutional grounds by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last May. The US House of Representatives voted [JURIST report] in favor of a federal law banning 20-week abortions in June 2013 but the bill failed [Washington Post report] to gain widespread support in the Democratic-controlled US Senate because many representatives believe such a law would violate women’s rights.