CHARLESTON - Abortion in West Virginia would be illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy under a bill passed Tuesday by West Virginia's House of Delegates.
In the House, where Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans, delegates passed the measure 79-17 after a fiery and emotional debate. The bill now moves to the Democratic Senate.
The action came the same day a House committee in South Carolina advanced a similar measure - one that would limit abortions to 19 weeks. Both bills resemble a law struck down in Arizona that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reconsider last month.
Under the West Virginia bill, the late-term abortions would be illegal unless women had life-threatening complications or suffered permanent physical damage. Even then, doctors would have to try to give the fetus the best chance to survive.
In the bill, anyone who performs an abortion after 20 weeks could be fined up to $5,000 and spend one to five years in a state correctional facility.
Few late-term abortions happen in West Virginia, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Out of 1,998 abortions reported in 2010, seven came at or after 21 weeks. Twenty occurred between 18 and 20 weeks, federal numbers show.
The bill asserts that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, which is disputed in the scientific community.
"To me, this is the ultimate in child abuse," said Del. Karen Arvon, R-Raleigh.
Del. Mike Caputo, a Marion County Democrat who opposed the bill, said the vote was intended to spur attack ads and produce election-year fodder. He said he has previously been tagged by anti-abortion groups as a "rabid, pro-abortion, baby-killing delegate."
"You can get the robocalls going back in Marion County. You can get the emails going," Caputo said. "But I will never be ashamed of protecting a female's health in the toughest time of her life."
Other states with 20-week bans include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas. The 9th Circuit's ruling on Arizona's ban is binding only in its nine-state territory, which includes Idaho.
W.Va. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he disagreed with several Democrats that this bill would be ruled unconstitutional. He held out hope because the U.S. Supreme Court only chose not to reconsider the Arizona law, but did not rule against it.