Protesters arrested in angry scenes at West Virginia capitol as lawmakers pass near-total abortion ban

Abortion rights protesters at the West Virginia state Capitol on Tuesday (AP)
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State lawmakers in West Virginia approved a sweeping anti-abortion law with few exceptions on 13 September, drawing furious protests from abortion rights advocates in the halls of the state Capitol building.

The bill is awaiting the signature of Republican Governor Jim Justice, who convened a special legislative session in July to “clarify and modernise” the state’s abortion laws after the US Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in June.

Both chambers of West Virginia’s Republican-dominated legislature approved a bill that outlaws all abortions except in pregnancies from rape or incest or for “medical emergencies”. It goes into effect 90 days after it is signed into law.

The law only allows survivors of rape or incest to receive an abortion up to eight weeks of pregnancy, and only if they report the crime to a law enforcement agency. Minors who are survivors of rape or incest have up to 14 weeks and must also report the crime to law enforcement.

Protesters inside the halls of the state capitol on Tuesday chanted “vote them out” and law enforcement officers were captured grabbing demonstrators and dragging women away from the building in handcuffs.

The state’s only abortion clinic – Charleston’s Women’s Health Center – announced that it will be pausing abortion care but continuing to offer exams, STI treatment, birth control, cancer screenings, family planning, gender-affirming care and other healthcare services.

“We won’t stop fighting for your right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, and we remain committed to providing the care our community needs,” the group said in a statement.

West Virginia is the second state to pass a near-total ban on legal abortion care after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned precedent established by the decisions in Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey.

Indiana – the first state to pass an anti-abortion law in the wake of the Dobbs decision – enacted its measure on 14 September.

On 18 July, a circuit court judge in West Virginia issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s 150-year-old anti-abortion law, freezing its enforcement as a legal challenge plays out. But state lawmakers intended to draft legislation that would override the previous “trigger” law.

“This cruel ban insults West Virginia doctors, endangering their patients’ lives while subjecting them to appalling government surveillance, and threatens to put other medical providers in prison simply for providing health care,” according to Alisa Clements, the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

The bill’s passage came as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina unveiled his proposal for a nationwide abortion ban on Tuesday that would outlaw abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy with few exceptions.

At least 12 states have effectively outlawed abortion entirely following the Supreme Court’s decision.

State-level anti-abortion laws that followed have forced the closure of more than 40 clinics and denied access to care for millions of women and girls.