Bill could further restrict access to abortion

February 9, 2019

CHARLESTON — Following a statewide vote in 2018 to change the state constitution to add that there is no guaranteed right to an abortion, the first abortion-related bill was discussed Thursday in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The House Health and Human Resources Committee on Thursday passed an amended version of House Bill 2801. The original bill stated abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. The amended version clarified that surgical abortions must be performed by a licensed physician.

Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette and lead sponsor of the bill, said the purpose of the bill is to ensure women are safe when seeking health care.

Under the original language, nurse practitioners and others with prescribing privileges may have been prohibited from prescribing mifepristone and misoprostol, the two medications used for medication abortions, also referred to as the abortion pill. The pill can be taken up to 10 weeks after an individual misses a period.

Currently, 34 states mandate only a physician can offer medication-assisted abortion.

The amended bill may still be restrictive, however. Advanced practice nurses and physician assistants can also perform aspiration abortions, which can be performed up to 14-16 weeks after a missed period. This type of abortion uses local anesthetic and can be done easily in a primary care setting. While it’s technically not surgery, it’s often referred to as a surgical abortion.

Studies show APRNs have the same complication rates as phyrationsicians when performing aspi abortions. These types of health care providers also conduct similar procedures, like inserting intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

The bill makes it a crime for any health care provider but a physician to conduct an aspiration abortion.

The bill was opposed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, because it is a restriction of professional practice.

“In this country, the right to make decisions about your reproductive health is a fundamental right, and this is chipping away at that right,” she said.

Fleischauer said she wasn’t sure what the bill was trying to address but feared it would have ramifications on rural women in particular if access was restricted.

While an estimated 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in her life, 90 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion clinic, and most women who live in rural areas have to drive more than 50 miles for reproductive health care, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. West Virginia only has one abortion clinic, located in Charleston.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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