West Virginia Democrat Leadership Split on Pro-Life Special Session

Abortion continues to be an issue hurting West Virginia’s Democrats in the statehouse, and now the issue of a special session is bringing the pain.

The issue dividing Democrat leaders is whether to hold a special session to revive House Bill 4588, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill, which would have banned abortions under certain circumstances after 20 weeks.

As we first wrote, the House Democrats reluctantly voted for the bill after House Republicans threatened to force the bill out of committee. Democrats said no, but changed their minds after public opinion forced them to work the bill. With a narrow majority, Dems need pro-life votes to keep the House.

After passing the full Legislature, Tomblin vetoed the bill in the 11th hour the same night as pro-life supporters gathered for their annual celebration in March. As I predicted, West Virginians for Life didn’t forget and have been waging a relentless war for an override of the Tomblin veto.

Legal experts were at loggerheads over whether lawmakers could legally meet to override the veto since the general session adjourned sine die. Instead, pro-lifers turned to a seldom-used parliamentary rule. The Legislature itself can call itself into session if three-fifths of senators and delegates agree.

West Virginians for Life has the signatures it needs in the Senate, while they need only three more signatures in the House according to media reports. However, “pro-life” supporters Tomblin and House Speaker Tim Miley are trying to trample this effort, even encouraging some House Democrats to remove their names from the petition.

The one Democratic leader not following the lead of Tomblin and Miley is Senate President Jeff Kessler. Instead of legislators calling themselves into a regular session – which could go on indefinitely – he is calling on Tomblin to call a special session for the pro-life bill.

“My concern is this, we are going to have this thing dominate the entire interim period and every month with people marching around the hallways of the Senate with petitions and the House and try to create division,” he said.

“We have a pro-life majority in leadership and I think we can get this issue addressed and put it behind us and move on to other topics that also need to be addressed.”

Miley and Tomblin have chosen not to work with pro-life supporters. House Democrats purposely crafted a bill specifically to make themselves look pro-life in the hopes that Tomblin would veto the bill. Tomblin did, then didn’t work with pro-life supporters and lawmakers to craft a bill for the most recent special session last week.

Now, when the right thing to do is call another special session, Tomblin and Miley are hiding and hoping pro-life supports go on their summer vacations and lose interest. They’re not going to.

If Democrats don’t deal with this now, they’re going to deal with it in November when these same citizens go to vote.