A ban on abortion after 20 weeks went into effect Tuesday in West Virginia, making the state one of 11 to prohibit such procedures. The law includes no clauses dealing with the issues of rape and incest, although it has some exemptions in other cases of medical emergencies, the Associated Press reports.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had previously vetoed the law, but his veto was overriden in March by Republicans, with the help of some Democrats, in the state legislature. The ban after 20 weeks is based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at that point, an argument that doctors and scientific studies refute. Despite this evidence, both state and federal legislators have pushed for bans on abortions after 20 weeks. The vast majority of abortions in the U.S. occur before 21 weeks, but when they are needed after that time, they are complex and often involve grave risks to a woman's health, according to Planned Parenthood.
In mid-May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. With the late-abortion ban measure unlikely to be passed by the Senate, lawmakers who support the bill appear to be using it to take aim at the Supreme Court and its landmark 1973 decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade. The West Virginia ban on abortion after 20 weeks contradicts the court's decision in that case.
Opponents of the state ban delivered scathing criticism when it passed in March. "Governor Tomblin was right to veto this callous, cruel and unconstitutional attack on health care for women facing complicated and sometimes dangerous situations in their lives and pregnancies," Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, adding that the politicians behind it should be "ashamed."
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, has said that he would defend the law in court, should it be challenged.