Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed West Virginia House Bill 4588 late on Friday. The bill would have outlawed abortion after 20 weeks statewide.
The Governor issued a statement explaining his decision: “I believe there is no greater gift of love than the gift of life. I have stated this time and again throughout my career and it is reflected in my legislative voting record. However, I have vetoed HB 4588 because I am advised, by not only attorneys from the legislature, but through my own legal team that this bill is unconstitutional.”
Abortions until approximately 24 weeks are allowed by the Roe vs. Wade ruling. The push to shorten this time frame is based on the theory that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks, though this is not widely agreed upon in the scientific community. Pro-choice advocates see 20-week bans as incrementally eroding women’s reproductive rights, further limiting their freedom to choose by narrowing the window women have to make a difficult decision.
Nine states have 20-week “fetal pain bans,” though West Virginia would have marked the first Democrat-controlled legislature to limit abortion access in this way.
Reproductive rights advocates argue not only for women’s freedom of choice but for the right to medical self-determination. In his statement, Governor Tomblin honored mothers forced to make difficult medical decisions when faced with complications during pregnancy, saying, “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 Governor added.
Sara Bird, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, praised Tomblin’s reasoning behind his choice to veto 4588: “The governor rightly saw this bill as a blatantly unconstitutional restriction on women’s health. Every pregnancy is different, and we can’t know all of the circumstances a woman is facing. A woman who is planning for a child but develops complications doesn’t need politicians interfering with her decision, nor does any other woman.”
[Governor Tomblin's Statement]