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Committee passes more stringent adolescent abortion bill, sends to floor

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail file photo

The state Senate Health and Human Resources Committee decided Wednesday evening to amend an abortion bill so that it once again requires minors to go to court for access to abortion.

The original version of the bill, House Bill 2002, removed the ability of a physician to waive parental notification before another physician performed an abortion on an adolescent. Under current law, a physician can find that it is in the minor’s best interest not to tell their parents, or the physician can find that the minor is mature enough to make that decision. The bill would have required minors to be emancipated or go to court for access to abortion.

After sexual abuse survivors and women’s health advocates spoke against the bill during a public hearing, a House of Delegates subcommittee amended the bill so that most physicians would not be able to waive parental notification, but that psychiatrists and psychologists would be able to do so. The subcommittee included the bill sponsor, Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of reproductive rights organization WV Free, called the new bill a “compromise” while representatives of West Virginians for Life, at least one of whom was present during the subcommittee meeting, said they were unaware of what was in the amended bill. The organization supported the original version and supporters have accused doctors who provide physician waivers of enabling abuse.

“So much for compromise,” Chapman Pomponio said Wednesday evening. “This maneuver is utterly lacking in integrity.”

The bill was the only item on the agenda in a last-minute meeting.

In the Senate health committee, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, moved to amend the bill so that psychologists and psychiatrists would no longer be able to waive parental notification. The amendment, and the bill passed. The bill was supposed to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee next, but Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan and the judiciary chair, sent it straight to the floor, where it will be up for a full vote.

Rucker also amended a telemedicine bill last week so that it prevented doctors from prescribing abortion drugs via telemedicine. With no discussion, that bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday and sent back to the House of Delegates to decide whether the House would agree to the change.

According to Department of Health and Human Resources, four teenagers used the physician waiver option last year. In all four cases, it was determined that the minor was mature enough to make the decision on their own.

In a policy statement earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence summarized research on parental involvement in adolescent abortions and found that requiring minors to go to court “poses risk of medical and psychological harm.”

The American Public Health Association and American Medical Association also have said they oppose requiring minors to go to court for abortion access.

“They’re saying to the medical community: We don’t trust you,” Chapman Pomponio said. “They’re saying to young women: You don’t deserve this safety net.”

Joseph Cohen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said in a statement, that the revived bill also would violate young women’s privacy. He called the bill a “heartless alternative.”

Reach Erin Beck at erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163, Facebook.com/erinbeckwv, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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