Abortion Ban Stalls in West Virginia After Protesters Pack Hearings and Capitol

“Vote them out. Vote them out,” activists chanted outside of lawmakers’ offices in West Virginia’s capital in late July, as senators considered a bill that would outlaw abortion in West Virginia. One activist held a sign labeled “Don’t Tread on Me” below a rattlesnake wrapped around itself, forming a uterus. Another had a white, pink and blue striped sign, the colors of the transgender flag, stating, “Abortion is not just a women’s issue.”

The West Virginia Republican Party failed in its attempt to pass an anti-abortion ban during a special session called by Gov. Jim Justice, partly because of activist efforts at the state legislature. Reproductive justice activists made their voices heard during a public hearing. They also protested at the capital for over eleven hours.

Activists insist that they be able to protect their actionsThis included speaking at a public meeting, emailing legislators and organizing sit-ins. packing and protestingAt the capital, they have delayed the vote, making abortion legal for the next few weeks.

“I don’t care what anyone says. If we weren’t here, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t tell me that protests and emails to legislators don’t work. I just saw it,” tweetedJamie Miller, executive assistant and abortion escort at ACLU-WV.

Southern Abortion Rights After the RoeReversal

Since the reversal in West Virginia’s abortion laws, the legal landscape has been rapidly changing. Roe v. WadeEnde June Immediately after the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson became public, the only West Virginia clinic offering abortion procedures halted services because it was uncertain if the state’s on-the-books abortion banIt was automatically in effect.

After the reversal Roe, over half of the countryEither initiated immediately their on-the books trigger bans or pre-Roe abortion bans, or otherwise began enforcing other hostile limitations on individuals’ access to abortion.

There was a national mourning immediately after the federal protection for abortion procedures was eliminated. “There’s this gut-wrenching feeling of like ‘I no longer fully have control over my body and what my choices are if I decide to have children or not,” said Rebecca Kamp, a nonbinary reproductive justice activist who lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. “We keep us safe, the government does not.”

Although protests in urban areas like New York City and Washington, D.C. have received most media attention, there are still many others. most effectedBy the fall RoeThose who reside in the Midwest, Appalachia, and the South. Particularly, the South will suffer the most from the effects on black women and queer people of colour. financial and health risksAssociated with abortion bans

If West Virginia had approved the abortion ban bill it would have been the first state to do so. However, the bill was stalled on August 5th. IndianaThe first post-RoeTo sign legislation that will ban most abortions in the state.

But, reproductive justice activists refuses to give up. Peregrine, a queer activist living in Huntington West Virginia, said that Lloyd. “There’s grit, there’s hope, there’s righteous anger. Some people are hopeless one day and the next they’re proclaiming their solemn duty to fight for the rest of their lives.”

Why National Groups Shouldn’t Write West Virginia Off

Ixya Vegas, a community organizer at Planned Parenthood of South Atlantic West Virginia believes that national reproductive justice groups view West Virginia as a lost cause. “I’m convinced national organizations … leave their regional groups out to dry, but like West Virginia is worth fighting for,” Vega tweeted. “We are worthy of attention that highlights great work and us trying.”

Holler Health Justice or HHJ is a West Virginia organization that promotes community power. This includes communities most disproportionately impacted by health inequities. HHJ continues to provide abortion funding, practical support, and free emergency contraception despite West Virginia’s ever-changing legal landscape.

“It’s the Appalachian way,” Lloyd said, describing the Appalachian organizing model reproductive justice activists have used to respond to this crisis. “It’s more word-of-mouth, people coming together on a low-key basis and just trying to build community informally.”

Fighting an Abortion Ban: How to Pack the Capital

Late July saw activists pack Charlestown, the capital, in protest of the planned coup. #BansOffOurBodiesThe House hosted a public hearing where people could come together to voice their disapproval. Speakers who were pro abortion allegedlyTheir mics cutThey received less speaking time than those opposed to abortion. Activists, including Women’s Health Center Director Katie Quinonez, were escortedFor shouting their abortion stories, get out of chambers

Zac Morton, a Morgantown minister serving the First Presbyterian Church, called for national attention to the large number of activists who spoke at this hearing. “Hey national organizers,” Morton said, “I hope you’re paying attention to how many West Virginians have turned up to speak out in opposition to the #AbortionBan being proposed during this special session. It’s at least two to one.”

Appalachian Abortion Access is a Queer Issue

It is against the law to ban abortion queer issueThis will disproportionately affect queer or trans people. West Virginia has highest percentage of trans youthTransgender West Virginians have faced many obstacles in the past. accessing health care in general.

Reproductive justice activists who protested at the capital in late July were conscious that abortion is not just a women’s issue, but will affect trans men, nonbinary people and other queer folks.

Many of the protestors at the capital identify as queer and were discriminated by lawmakers when they shared their abortion stories at a public hearing.

Ash Orr is a trans Appalachian organizer, policy outreach coordinator and policy facilitator who uses they/he pronouns. repeatedly misgenderedDespite sharing their pronouns with a moderator at the public hearing, and writing their pronouns on a sign up sheet right next to his name, Orr had their mic cut offAnd was escorted off to the floor. According to reports, delegates laughed at them and called him an “abomination.”

Orr’s statement, which included their experience as a childhood rape victim and abortion patient, was later shared fullySen. Shelley Moore Capoto addressed the Senate floor. After the full statement had been shared, Orr sent an email to Mike Azinger. writing that “Given your statements on the floor, it is evident that you neither care for children or adults who are the victims of rape.” Azinger responded via email four hours later, saying, “The arrogance of some people: Why do you assume I know about your pathetic statement Capito read on the floor? You were born a female and always — always — will be a female. And you are the one who does not care about the victims of rape: If they get pregnant, you want them to kill their baby, which they’ll live with for the rest of their life.”

Despite the egregious treatment Orr received from West Virginia’s legislature, they refuse to stop fighting for reproductive justice. “For the rest of my days,” Orr tweeted, “I will never stop fighting for my community, for Queer joy, for bodily autonomy, or for better days. I am exhausted, but I’m still standing.”

Support grows for a ballot initiative

Activists’ success in stalling the passage of an abortion ban — and their adamant dedication to abortion rights in West Virginia — have led Democratic lawmakers to suggest that abortion rights should be voted on via a ballot measure. Despite Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin’s statementThe governor should vote on the right to abortion in West Virginia. adamantThis should be decided by both the legislature and the attorney-general.

While there are many ways to get a. ballot measureKansas activists rejected an earlier in the month, prompting West Virginia activists to support a similar initiative. are reminded of West Virginians voting in 2018, by a slim majority, to approve a constitutional amendment stating “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.”

Although abortion rights remain in flux, they are legal in West Virginia at the moment. Activists are also working to raise funds to support the state’s only abortion clinic, which continues to provide abortion care to West Virginians.