You Spoke; They Listened: Update on HB 2002

Last Monday, at a public hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, people gathered to share their stories and voice their opposition to House Bill 2002, which infringed upon young women’s right to terminate a pregnancy without parental involvement. Private citizens joined ACLU-WV and other civil liberties organizations like WV FREE and WV Citizen Action Group in addressing members of the committee.

We believe that your voice, the collective voice of an engaged and passionate citizenry, was responsible for some important changes to the bill, which was significantly amended and passed the House yesterday morning. We were moved by the accounts of women, who, as children, survived abuse at the hands of their parents. Often through tears, these women told their emotional stories to the members of the committee. These women’s stories showed why minors must sometimes be able to exercise their right to obtain an abortion without notifying their parents.

One parent of a teen girl shared that she hopes her daughter feels she could share the news of an unplanned pregnancy with her, but that if she couldn’t, that her daughter could seek the advice of a medical professional and not a judge. Another woman spoke of her work at a reproductive health clinic and specifically recalled a teen patient who was a victim of incest and was terrified of the court system after upsetting experiences with her abusive family.

We heard the term ‘bodily autonomy’ several times. We believe strongly that this civil right does not apply solely to adults and emancipated minors, but also to teens.

Supporters of reproductive justice far outnumbered those promoting the bill last week. Your participation at the hearing and your phone calls, emails, and meetings with your delegates helped the bill reach its current form. Originally the bill completely removed the option of a physician waiver and required minors to suffer the indignity of going in front of a judge in order to terminate a pregnancy without parental involvement.

Now, penalties have been removed for doctors violating parental notification laws and certain healthcare providers can document that a minor is mature enough to make decisions about pregnancy without notifying a parent. Under the version of the bill that passed the House, young women would not be forced to testify in court about their private medical decisions to avoid parental involvement.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported, “Members of the subcommittee, which included Delegates Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Kessinger, amended the bill so that most physicians would no longer be able to waive parental notification, but psychiatrists, as well as licensed psychologists, would be able to do so.”

We’re pleased that those few teens who can’t notify their parents will have options aside from appearing before a judge. As we shared when we announced the public hearing, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Association all support physician waivers for minors. Their findings show that judicial involvement can traumatize teens and influence their health care decisions.

Thank you for showing up at the hearing, for making calls, and for demanding that your voices be heard. This bill was introduced with the potential to damage civil rights in West Virginia. As it stands now, the worst outcome has been averted.

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this bill as it moves through to the Senate Chamber. And let’s all remain vigilant.

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