West Virginia Amendment 1, stating that “this Constitution does not protect the right to abortion,” is what I would call “backwards family planning.”
We all agree that our goal is to bring children into the world who are wanted and able to thrive. We also agree that government is not just there to protect property, it’s there to protect life. Ironically, the countries in the world where abortion is legal also have strong social policies that support family life, from pre-conception all the way to adulthood. The countries in the world where abortion is illegal provide little or no support for maternal or child health.
When we talk about family-support policies, it’s important to remind people that these programs don’t necessarily require a lot of funding. Some of them are already in place but are sometimes selectively, or poorly, enforced. That can create more single-parent families, which is the highest risk factor for poverty—hardly what we would consider “thriving.”
And consistently ignored during the legislative process is the error of proposing laws that regulate only a woman’s part of the process to build and sustain a human being. If it were merely math that measured the biological systems required to make a full-term baby, the very unbalanced equation would prove that the mother contributes 100 percent while the male contributes less than five percent. A mother spends nine months creating new life, while a man may have spent approximately five minutes, or less. Clearly, women have a vested interest in determining how they proceed with a pregnancy; to ignore that fact automatically awards equitable rights to the partner with much less at stake.
Still, without favoring, penalizing, or stigmatizing either parent, there are many ways to equalize and support the process of creating, nurturing, and sustaining healthy families that can thrive.
Starting on the plus side, West Virginia is one of only eight states that, in addition to requiring sex education in public schools, also requires that it include the “mention of consent, and sexual assault.” And while we’re at it, we should familiarize both genders on updated West Virginia laws regarding reproductive rights and restrictions, and include parental rights and responsibilities. In place of “Shop Class” or “Home Economics” of my era, we should include childcare classes to new parents—or better yet, to any teen who is sexually active.
In the West Virginia legislative session this year, there were multiple proposals specifically relating to family policy and reproductive rights. Addressing the problem of sexual assault, Senate Bill 72 created a Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which was signed into law. However, House Bill 3109, Implementing the Statewide Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Tracking System, submitted by Delegate Sammi Brown, was not brought for a vote by the committee. She states that she intends to re-introduce the bill next year, with the collaboration of law enforcement.
We need to make contraceptives available and affordable for both genders, without judgement. In support of this, House Bill 2583, the Family Planning Access Act, authorizing a pharmacist to dispense oral birth control medications without a physician’s prescription, was signed and goes into effect in June. Unfortunately, Senator Patricia Rucker (R, 16th District, Eastern Panhandle) amended it so that “Plan B” was specifically excluded: women can’t access “morning after” emergency pregnancy prevention without seeing a doctor.
Another proposal, House Bill 3038, Increasing Access to Contraceptive Drugs, Devices and Procedures, would have required insurance companies to allow access to contraceptives for at least one year. That well-meaning bill obviously did not recognize that a woman’s childbearing years last over three decades. It also died in committee.
We should strengthen maternal health care and prenatal care—Senate Bill 564 Expanding Comprehensive Coverage for Pregnant Women Through Medicaid will help to do that. However, HB 3148, Making a Supplementary Appropriation to the Department of Health and Human Resources, was passed by both houses, but then vetoed by the Governor. We should also make sure that both custodial parents get child-care leave for both biological and adopted children. Unfortunately, Senate bill 306, the Establishing Family and Medical Leave Insurance Benefits Act, died in committee.
We should definitely mandate equal pay to women, since, statistically, they are often the sole provider for their children when all other systems fail. But Senate Bill 412, the Katherine Johnson Fair Pay Act, also died in committee.
Additionally, the physiology of women is too complex for just a blanket “ban” on abortion. One example of two simplistic and uninformed proposals this year is House Bill 2915, the Fetal Heartbeat Ban. As the title suggests, it would make detection of a fetal heartbeat grounds to prohibit termination as early as six weeks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that a heartbeat, produced by striated cardiac muscle that contracts in the presence of sodium and calcium, is no longer even considered a determining “sign of life” when evaluating people in long-term comas.
Even more punitive is that many women would not realize they are pregnant within the timeline proposed by this bill, which did not pass out of committee. The other example is House Bill 2074, the Life at Conception Act, which would have been an outright ban on abortion. Technically, that would have made it a “trigger law,” even though we are one of nine states that still have a “pre-Roe-era” law on our books banning abortion. But this bill would have gone even further, banning medications and devices that are commonly used to prevent embryonic implantation in the uterus. It failed again to proceed to a vote after first being brought up in 2018.
The truth is, if you know four women in America, one of them has—according to estimates—likely had an abortion. They are your sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, neighbors, and quite possibly, yourself. If men were equally involved with, or cared enough about, “family planning” to use it or even ask about it before it’s needed, this discussion would be much different. So rather than having government make decisions for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy, we should instead be asking what we could do as a society to make her pregnancy part of the planning. But if policies to protect and enhance family life are not our first priority, our government is going in reverse.
And as much as I’d like to remind women and men that their own personal actions are usually their best protection against pregnancy, evidently that day of reckoning has not yet arrived.