Following a public hearing Monday, during which sexual abuse survivors spoke against the bill, the West Virginia House of Delegates Committee on the Judiciary sent legislation that would place new restrictions on adolescent abortions to a subcommittee for further review.
More than 40 people, most opposed to House Bill 2002, spoke during a hearing in the House of Delegates chamber.
West Virginia law requires doctors to give parents at least 24 hours notice before performing an abortion on an adolescent, but it includes two exceptions — minors may obtain a waiver from a physician or from a judge.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, removes the physician waiver option and requires an unemancipated minor to obtain permission from a judge to undergo an abortion without notifying a parent or legal guardian.
In 2015, no West Virginia minors used the judicial bypass option — a procedure the American Academy of Pediatrics has said “poses risks of medical and psychological harm.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, parents either received notification or waived notification in 42 of 48 adolescent abortions that year. One minor was emancipated. In four cases, minors obtained waivers from a physician who found they were mature enough to make the decision on their own.
During the public hearing, Sarah Brown, a Mountain State Justice attorney who has provided legal representation for minors during the judicial bypass procedure, said that she’s observed that some judges aren’t qualified to discuss sexual health issues, or are not comfortable doing so. She said medical professionals are “best suited to determine if it is appropriate to waive the parental notification requirement.”
Representatives of several organizations that support access to reproductive health care spoke against the bill. Organizations represented included West Virginia Free, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group and the West Virginia State Medical Association.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence, the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association have spoken out against requiring minors to go to court for access to care.
Lawmakers present also heard from several sexual abuse survivors who said disclosing pregnancy or abortion would have led to more abuse.
Several organizations that routinely support restricting access to abortion, including members of West Virginians for Life and a representative of the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, spoke in support of the bill.
Some argued that “secret abortions” would enable sexual predators.
“I want you to know my heart breaks for you, and I will pray for your peace,” said Dana Leech, of the Monongalia County chapter of West Virginians for Life, addressing the sexual abuse survivors in the House chamber, before speaking in support of the bill.
“When you have been sexually abused, nothing becomes more important to you than taking ownership over your own body,” said Barbara Rathburn, a survivor. “You need to understand, not all of us grow up like the Brady Bunch.”
“If I had to involve my parents, who did not have my best interests at heart, and they made me carry a child, I would have killed myself,” said Jacqueline Jacovidis, another survivor.
The bill contains no provisions for victims of rape or incest.
It also states that parental notification is not required during a “medical emergency,” and defines medical emergency using the same language as the 20-week abortion ban, which states that planning to kill oneself is not a “medical emergency.”
State code says medical professionals who have “reasonable cause” to suspect neglect or abuse are required to report it. Dr. Coy Flowers, who wrote in a Gazette-Mail op-ed earlier this month that, sometimes, young women bypass parental notification requirements because of abusive family situations, said in a phone interview Monday that, while physicians are mandated reporters, some girls don’t disclose or even deny the abuse but still need access to care.
Flowers, the vice chairman of the West Virginia Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and vice chairman of the West Virginia State Medical Association, also said that requiring a judicial bypass “could significantly delay necessary care in a timely and most-safe manner.”
The House Health and Human Resources Committee passed a substitute for the bill, with almost no discussion and no testimony from experts, last week. House legal counsel explained, during the Judiciary Committee meeting Monday, that the committee substitute would allow physicians to file petitions in court on behalf of adolescent patients, but minors likely still would be required to testify.
After a few questions for legal counsel from members of the committee, Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer and chairman of the committee, appointed Delegates Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Kessinger to a subcommittee to review concerns.