Tomblin's Sneak Attack on Pro-Life in West Virginia

Abortion will always be a sensitive subject, because no decision to end life is easy. But West Virginia’s Governor just made the voter’s choice of terminating Democratic control of the House of Delegates very easy.

Late Friday, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed House Bill 4588, which bans abortions under certain circumstances after 20 weeks. The Democrat executive did this in a typical end-of-the-week late-hour veto.

He also did it at the same time West Virginians for Life was having its annual gala. The timing of the veto couldn’t possibly be any worse.

Sneak attacks are probably the most notorious of military tactics. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor gave Japan a short-term victory, but it also woke up a sleeping giant. The Battle of the Bulge was Germany’s last, desperate attempt to blitzkrieg their way to a third reich. The 101st Airborne Division held the line and we all know who lost that war.

Sneak attacks are valid tactics, but they’re often signs of short-term thinking. They might be successful initially, but the sneak attack does more to galvanize the ones who were attacked. Tomblin’s veto of the abortion bill while its supporters were dining will be interpreted as a sneak attack, and that is bad news for Democrats in 2014 and beyond.

West Virginia is a state that straddles the line between liberal and conservative. This state has led the way on liberal issues, such as unionization, welfare, etc. But West Virginians also have a conservative streak, which has increased over time as liberal institutions have failed them.

The unions, in many ways, have turned into what they were created to stop. The new boss is the same as the old boss. Plus, many of the things unions fought for are now part of federal law. It’s never been easier to be your own free agent, negotiating your own wage and benefits.

Welfare did wonders in this state at first, but instead of lifting people from poverty it has kept them enslaved. Instead of pursuing careers and college, some people have largely preferred to stay home and collect their check. Some have turned to meth and prescription drugs. And most, even when working to rise above their station, stay trapped in poverty due to strict laws and regulations that do more to hurt the businesses that could, and would, give these people a hand up.

Make no mistake though, even when this state leaned more liberal, it was always against abortion. While polls show that people want to at least have the option of abortion in case of emergency or rape, most do want some sort of limits, like limiting late-term abortions.

The bill in question has been introduced, in some form, almost every year for the past couple of sessions. This year’s bill was introduced by Delegate David Pethel, a Democrat representing Fayette County. It probably would have went nowhere had this not been an election year. In 2012, the Republicans increased their seats to 47 and are on track to take the House in 2014.

This year, Republicans tried to discharge the bill from the House Health and Human Resources Committee, where it laid dormant. The House voted along party lines against the GOP-backed motion, but now Democrats had an interesting problem: that vote against discharge could be construed as a vote for abortion. Procedurally that wasn’t the case, but in politics, perception is reality.

Ask former Congressman Alan Mollohan how going up against the anti-abortion lobby helped his congressional career. It didn’t. During the debate on the Affordable Care Act, anti-abortion groups criticized Mollohan for not fighting harder to strip federal funding for abortions from the bill. Instead, he backed a weak promise from President Obama that he would use an executive order. Mollohan lost the primary to his Democratic challenger.

Ultimately, the abortion bill was pushed through its committees and passed the House 79 to 17. The West Virginia Senate also approved the bill, after much debate about its constitutionality as well as a medical debate on what a viable fetus is. Democrats, especially House Democrats, wouldn’t have to worry about robocalls, mailers, and protesters during their re-election campaigns.

Governor Tomblin just stripped them of that certainty. Perception is reality. The state Republican Party did a great job making sure all seats this year are uncontested. House Democrats are going to have to explain their vote against discharge, then deal with the fallout of Tomblin’s veto. West Virginians for Life has traditionally enjoyed a good relationship with the state Democratic Party. Tomblin’s veto just knocked that down like a wrecking ball.

Whether turning off life support for an elderly relative or finding out that the baby you’ve been planning for could possibly kill the mother, these choices to end a life are not supposed to be easy. But they are sometimes necessary and it’s important to have legal protections in place so those decisions can be made on the medical facts, not the emotions. Whether this bill would do that is a question for constitutional scholars. But political science professors will definitely look back at this veto as the moment the Republicans took House majority.