While 81 percent of West Virginians personally oppose abortion, two-thirds of state residents believe the Legislature should not pursue legislation to ban Medicaid-funded abortions, according to a Hart Research poll released Wednesday.
The poll of 600 likely West Virginia voters, selected to match the current political climate — 45 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic, 22 percent independent — found that West Virginians consistently oppose legislative interference with the state Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor, elderly and disabled.
“The voters of West Virginia do not want politicians imposing their personal beliefs on West Virginia women,” West Virginia Free Executive Director Margaret Chapman Pomponio said at a news conference where the poll results were released.
“Certainly, this will surprise some legislators, but the results of this poll show the West Virginians I know and we know as being compassionate people,” she said.
The release of the poll, sponsored by a coalition of organizations forming the “Health Not Politics” campaign, comes on the eve of a House Health and Human Resources Committee meeting set for Thursday, whose agenda includes a bill to essentially prohibit Medicaid funding for abortions (HB 4012).
In 1993, the West Virginia Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, overturned a similar law that banned Medicaid-funded abortions, ruling that it was unconstitutional because it denied health care services to low-income women.
The Hart Research poll found that 54 percent of West Virginians do not want the Legislature to ban Medicaid funding for abortions, while 36 percent support the proposed legislation, with the remainder undecided.
A majority — 62 percent — of those who said they personally oppose abortion said they do not believe that government should have a say in abortion decisions.
Additionally, a majority said banning Medicaid funding of abortions should not be legislative priority, with 64 percent of those polled saying the Legislature should not spend time debating the issue, compared to 31 percent who believe it should be.
Political consultant Mike Plante called Hart Research “the gold standard” for public opinion research, with a long list of top corporate and political clients. He said the poll should be a wake-up call for state legislators that there is no public mandate to ban Medicaid coverage of abortions.
Under the proposed legislation, Medicaid funding of abortion would be prohibited except in instances when it is determined to be medically necessary “for the preservation of the life of the woman.”
Under existing law, Medicaid covers only medically necessary abortions, but gives physicians latitude in determining medical necessity, based on physical, emotional, psychological, familial and/or age factors.
Lead sponsor of the bill, Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The live telephone interview survey of 600 likely West Virginia voters was conducted Jan. 4-7.
Costs of the survey were shared by members of the “Health Not Politics” coalition, which includes West Virginia Free, American Civil Liberties Union-West Virginia, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, National Association of Social Workers-West Virginia, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Call to Action for Racial Equality (CARE), Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Women’s Health Center, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, Boss Babies and the Kanawha Valley Chapter of the National Organization for Women.