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Senate passes abortion limits bill, but not without a fight

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill banning abortions that take place 20 weeks after fertilization passed the West Virginia Senate.

The bill, in its amended form, allows for termination after 20 weeks in the instances of non-viable pregnancies. It also knocks down the penalties for doctors convicted of performing those abortions from a felony to misdemeanor.

But the bill didn't pass without a fight.

Lawmakers in both chambers–Delegate Meshea Poore and Sen. Erik Wells, both D-Kanawha, made passionate floor speeches and invoked a rarely used legislative procedure demanding the bill be read in its entirety–in an attempt to block the bill.

A point of order was called against Wells after he demanded the opportunity to speak to the bill prior to the Senate floor vote. His request was not granted, but Wells did make a speech after the bill passed.

"I know some folks are thinking I would pull a Wendy Davis," Wells said referencing the Texas state senator who filibustered an anti-abortion bill for 11 hours last year. "All the men know women are stronger and I wouldn't be able to pull it off anyway."

Wells said he thinks votes were cast to make a political statement, not because the bill is good policy. The attorneys for the Senate Judiciary Committee cautioned members of that committee against passing the bill Thursday, saying it is unconstitutional and case law indicates bans after 24 weeks are more likely to be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It seems to me the worst thing about politics today is how the special interests really do take heart," Wells said. "You have to make sure the right checkmarks ar checked."

The focus on "gays, abortions and guns" is what causes West Virginia to rank low among U.S. states, he said.

"We're never going to get past 50th if we're more concerned about the next election than we are the next generation," Wells said.

Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, voted for the bill, but the former circuit court judge said the Legislature should focus on issues that affect children once they're born.

"I've never seen an abortion performed. I don't want to ever see one," Cookman said. "But I've seen a lot of things in 40-plus years. I've seen a newborn baby strangled by her mother with the apron strings. I've seen that baby put into a garbage bag and put out with the trash. I've seen babies born addicted to alcohol, to drugs. I've seen babies die as a result of being violently shaken or live a life of mental disability because of that. I've seen children with shock collars around their necks and shocked by their parents. I've seen children tied to trees as a form of discipline."

Cookman urged legislators to encourage constituents to get involved in their communities to help these at-risk kids and to report cases of child neglect.

Because the Senate changed the bill, it must go back to the House for that body to concur with or reject the amendments. If the House rejects the changes, a conference committee likely would be called to work out the differences before the end of the session at midnight.

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