CHARLESTON – Excluding bonds and veterans’ bonuses, the state constitution has only seen three or four substantive amendments in its history.
This November, there will be two proposed amendments to the West Virginia Constitution.
Suffice it to say, amending the state Constitution is a rare and radical act. Two amendments would be a sweeping change, and in particular, Amendment 1, would be a radical departure from our state’s commitment to personal freedoms.
Amendment 1 says, in its entirety, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects the right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”
It fully removes the right to abortion from the state constitution, even in extreme circumstances like sexual assault or when the life of the woman is at risk. While people hold deep personal beliefs about abortion, the ramifications of passing an amendment like this are dangerous and far-reaching.
Constitutions are typically used to grant individual rights and limit the government. In West Virginia, our Supreme Court of Appeals has repeatedly held that our state constitution provides greater protections for individual liberties than its federal counterpart.
By removing the right to abortion, we would be contradicting our commitment to personal liberties beyond federal protections. Even if the federal precedent in Roe v. Wade wasn’t under constant assault and on uncertain footing, this amendment would allow damaging legislation to pass unchecked.
Courts serve as a check on legislative power. By explicitly stating that there is no right to abortion, West Virginia courts would have no authority to review any legislation related to abortion, hobbling our system of checks and balances.
Similarly, we’ve seen a claim, both in the Hobby Lobby decision and in testimony from Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, that certain forms of contraception “cause” abortions. If the legislature were to agree with that finding, it could potentially regulate, restrict or even ban that form of contraception while the state courts could not intervene.
The authority granted by passing Amendment 1 is sweeping. Despite false claims that it is only about funding, it is clear when you read the amendment that it fully strips protections for the right to abortion without providing any exceptions.
When given the chance, our Legislature has repeatedly refused to add or has much more significantly limited exceptions. The danger is that it would only take as few as 67 people to pass legislation – again, not subject to court review – that could substantially limit the access to abortion care without consideration of extreme circumstances.
Abortion has, and will likely always, be a contentious issue. But regardless of one’s personal feelings on abortion, it’s clear that Amendment 1 is too extreme.
It circumvents the role of the courts,goes against West Virginia’s commitment to personal liberty and doesn’t include important exceptions for extreme circumstances. And ultimately, it puts personal healthcare choices in the hands of a few legislators, instead of people and their doctors.
If you value our constitution and the personal liberties it enshrines for all West Virginians, vote “no” on Amendment 1 this November.
Baumwell is Policy Director for ACLU-WV.