The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Wild and Wonderful Pro-Life Win in West Virginia

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Pro-lifers certainly had a vested interest in Tuesday’s midterm elections. While pro-lifers are certainly disappointed that Democrats won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, many are heartened that Republicans expanded their majority in the U.S. Senate. This will make it easier for President Trump to confirm judicial appointments during the next two years. However, the results of a ballot proposition in West Virginia might have an even larger short-term effect. Yesterday, Amendment 1 was approved by voters in the Mountain State — receiving over 51 percent of the vote. Amendment 1 will add language in the West Virginia state constitution stating that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

This is an important victory. The passage of Amendment 1 will prevent taxpayer funding of abortion for elective abortions in West Virginia. Currently, the Hyde amendment only allows for federal funding of abortion in very limited circumstances. However, 17 states, including West Virginia, use state taxpayer dollars pay for elective abortions for women on Medicaid. In West Virginia, like nearly every other state, this policy did not come about through the democratic process. In 1993, in Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, et al. v. Panepinto, et al. the state supreme court ruled that the state was required to pay for elective abortions for women on Medicaid. The passage of Amendment 1 will eliminate the Panepinto funding requirement.

Stopping taxpayer funding of abortion has always been priority for pro-lifers. Protecting the conscience rights of taxpayers has always been an important goal. Furthermore, academic research shows that limiting public funding for abortion reduces abortion rates. Indeed, taxpayer funded abortions are common. Every year since 2010, over 25 percent of abortions performed on West Virginia residents have been paid for by the state Medicaid program. Furthermore, even though abortion rates are declining nationally, the number of abortions funded by Medicaid has increased in many states. In fact, in West Virginia, between 2013 and 2017, the number of Medicaid-funded abortions more than tripled. Some have speculated that part of this increase may be due to the state’s Medicaid expansion which was subsidized by the Affordable Care Act. As such, Amendment 1 will likely save hundreds of preborn lives every year.

Historically, pro-lifers have made little use of direct democracy. That is likely because of the high financial costs of both qualifying a measure for the ballot and running an effective statewide campaign. However, in recent years, pro-life ballot propositions in conservative states have enjoyed a great deal of success. Pro-lifers have used direct democracy to enact parental involvement laws in Florida in 2004, Alaska, in 2010, and Montana in 2012. Also, in 2014, Tennessee voters passed a constitutional amendment which gave state-level pro-life laws greater constitutional protection. Hopefully the success of Amendment 1 in West Virginia will inspire pro-life activists in other states to use direct democracy to enact additional protections for the preborn.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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