CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions based solely on a prenatal diagnosis of a disability, including Down syndrome.
The bill, approved on a 28-5 vote, makes exceptions for medical emergencies or if a fetus would not survive outside of the womb. It now goes to the House of Delegates.
Marshall County Republican Mike Maroney, who is a radiologist and chairs the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, said he sees ultrasounds up to 500 times a year. Under the bill, he said that abortion cannot be performed if a woman tells the physician that it's based on a disability.
The key might be whether the physician is told anything.
Maroney was questioned by Harrison County Democrat Mike Romano, who said: "As long as the woman keeps her mouth shut, the physician's in the clear."
"That's the way I read it," Maroney said.
Marion County Democrat Mike Caputo then repeated the exchange between Romano and Maroney just to understand it for himself.
"What I got out of that was, when a woman is probably facing the most difficult, trying, troubling time that she has ever faced in her life, if she wants to terminate this pregnancy, she has to lie," Caputo said. "If that child is disabled, and that's the reason her and her significant other want to terminate, they can't disclose that. Maybe I misinterpreted what I heard, but that's what I heard, that they would have to lie."
The legislation comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider a Mississippi law that seeks to ban abortions after 15 weeks. The 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade essentially legalized any abortion that takes place before a fetus can survive outside the mother's womb, generally around 24 weeks.
Caputo, who opposes abortion, voted against the bill.
"I just don't understand how we have to run a bill such as this, I guess, just to say we ran a bill," Caputo said. "I don't get it."
Caputo read a letter from a constituent who asserted that it's not the role of lawmakers to interfere with a woman's decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
West Virginia has one abortion provider, the Women's Health Center of West Virginia. The center's executive director, Katie Quinonez, had said her staff doesn't question patients' reasons for having an abortion. But she said she's never heard of a patient seeking abortion care because their baby is presumed to have Down syndrome or any other disability.
"If this bill passes, it will force providers to interrogate their patient's reasons for having an abortion," she said. "It could force doctors to investigate their patients and will irreversibly harm the clinician-patient relationship."
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