CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates reacted swiftly to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of HB 2568, which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.
The House voted 77-16 to override the veto early Wednesday morning.
While the Senate is expected to vote similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the upper chamber would not take up the measure Wednesday evening.
“We have until the end of the session to deal with a veto message,” Carmichael said. “It’s not a time-sensitive issue.”
Tomblin, who is an abortion opponent, vetoed the bill Monday, saying it is unconstitutional. The governor said he had urged lawmakers to reach a compromise that could be upheld in the courts.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gives a woman the constitutional right to make reproductive choices, sets the mark at 24 weeks, when a fetus is viable outside the womb. West Virginia law places no limit on abortions; however, the number of women seeking late-term abortions is fewer than 10 per year.
While the bill does take into consideration whether the mother’s life is at risk, it does not address her health and does not allow abortions in cases of rape and incest.
Instead, the bill addresses the pain a fetus may feel at 20 weeks. That point has been debated by legislators and by medical experts, some of whom argue that a fetus does feel pain at that point and others who say the brain is not developed enough for pain receptors to register.
The bill passed both chambers by large margins and with bipartisan support. A simple majority in each chamber would override the veto.
Carmichael said the assumption is that the legislation will be challenged in the courts. He said Attorney General Patrick Morrisey feels confident he can argue the bill’s constitutionality successfully.
The court battle is likely to be expensive for a state that is facing a $60 to $80 million shortfall in in its current budget.
Carmichael said the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act is one of those measures where money should not be a factor.
“Costs are a factor in any decision we make, (but) as it regards life and the position for this bill is saying we protect fetal pain and put restrictions around abortions,” Carmichael said. “The cost of litigation is less of a controlling factor.”
The Senate has until March 14, the last day of this legislative session, to vote on an override of the governor’s veto.
Arch Moore was governor the last time the Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto, nearly 30 years ago.
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