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Girl, 12, challenges W.Va. lawmakers on abortion: ‘What about my life?’

Addison Gardner, 12, spoke out Wednesday against an abortion bill proposed by West Virginia legislators that would restrict the procedure in almost all cases. (YouTube/West Virginia House of Delegates)
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In a public hearing for a West Virginia abortion bill that would ban the procedure in almost all cases, a 12-year-old girl supporting abortion rights took to the lectern Wednesday and asked Republican lawmakers whether they care about her or young people like her: “What about my life?”

After West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) asked lawmakers to “clarify and modernize” the state’s abortion laws to reflect the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Republican-controlled legislature is considering an abortion bill that would not only prohibit the procedure in most cases but also allow for the prosecution of physicians who perform abortions.

So when dozens of people spoke out against the bill at the West Virginia House of Delegates, Addison Gardner was among the speakers given 45 seconds each to plead their case to lawmakers.

“My education is very important to me, and I plan on doing great things in life,” she said, noting that she plays varsity volleyball and runs track at Buffalo Middle School in Kenova, W.Va. She then asked a series of questions to the much older lawmakers regarding the lack of protections in House Bill 302: “If a man decides that I’m an object and does unspeakable and tragic things to me, am I, a child, supposed to birth and carry another child? Am I to put my body through the physical trauma of pregnancy? Am I to suffer the mental implications, a child who had no say in what was being done with my body?”

She added, “Some here say they are pro-life. What about my life? Does my life not matter to you?”

Despite the impassioned plea from Gardner and other abortions rights supporters in and outside the chamber, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill by a vote of 69 to 23.

Hours after Gardner spoke, the House narrowly adopted an amendment to the bill to allow abortions in cases of rape or incest. But the exception in the amendment, which passed 46 to 43, is allowed only up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and only if the rape or incest is reported to police. The amendment adopted by the Republican-led legislature was narrower than one proposed by Democrats regarding abortion exceptions for rape or incest, which was soundly defeated in the chamber.

The bill went to the Senate on Thursday and could be passed as soon as the end of the week.

Arizona is one of several Republican-controlled states that is pointing to a century-old law as the rationale to roll back access to abortions. (Video: Julie Yoon, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

West Virginia is among the states that do not have “trigger bans” that would outlaw abortion within 30 days of Roe’s being struck down. Instead, the state has a pre-Roe abortion ban dating to the 1800s that — in the absence of Roe — would come back into effect. The Republican-led state never repealed its pre-Roe abortion ban, and voters approved a constitutional amendment specifying that West Virginians do not have a right to abortion.

Abortion is now banned in these states. See where laws have changed.

A judge’s ruling last week blocked enforcement of the state’s 150-year-old abortion ban and allowed for the procedure to resume in the state for the time being. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Tera L. Salango granted the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion clinic, a preliminary injunction, saying its patients, “especially those who are impregnated as a result of a rape or incest, are suffering irreparable harm,” according to the Associated Press. The ruling was decried by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) as “a dark day for West Virginia.”

On Monday, Justice issued a proclamation calling for a special session of the legislature “to clarify and modernize the abortion-related laws currently existing as part of the West Virginia Code.” The governor’s office said in a news release that the special session this week would also “ensure a coherent, comprehensive framework governing abortions and attendant family services and support to expecting mothers to provide the citizens of this State more certainty in the application of such laws.”

“From the moment the Supreme Court announced their decision in Dobbs, I said that I would not hesitate to call a Special Session once I heard from our Legislative leaders that they had done their due diligence and were ready to act,” Justice said in a statement. “As I have said many times, I very proudly stand for life and I believe that every human life is a miracle worth protecting.”

At Wednesday’s public hearing, more than 90 people, including medical professionals, clergy members and abortion rights activists, spoke about their concerns related to the restrictive bill. Many of them described it as “disgusting,” “delusional” and “inhumane.” Katie Quiñonez, executive director of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, was escorted out after she exceeded her 45-second limit.

“This ban has nothing to do with life. It has nothing to do with health. It has nothing to do with family,” she said. “This is about control.”

Others, like Ash Orr, a transgender activist whose pronouns are they/he, specifically talked about the experience of being raped. Orr said they were raped at ages 9 and 10.

“I want you to explain to me why it would have been okay for me as a child to have carried my rapist’s child,” they told lawmakers. “Explain it to me like I’m one of the children that y’all are willing to traumatize.”

When Gardner took the lectern Wednesday, she found support from Rita Ray, 80, who had an abortion in 1959, before the procedure was legalized by Roe. A photo from Kyle Vass, a journalist with the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, shows Ray smiling as Gardner makes her plea to lawmakers.

Video of the vote shows that as the House passed the bill, protesters outside the chamber were chanting expletives at the lawmakers. Even though Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the amendment addressing rape and incest, some lawmakers stressed that the exception was too narrow.

“Guys, I’m struggling with this amendment, big-time,” said Democratic Del. Kayla Young, who ended up voting for the amendment, according to West Virginia MetroNews. “I’d rather have something than nothing. Honestly, I want to protect people. I’m struggling. That’s all I’ve got.”

Before the Senate began its hearing on the bill Thursday, state Sen. Mike Azinger (R) said in an opening prayer that he was thankful that he and his colleagues were not aborted.

“We’re just grateful for that, Lord,” he said.

On July 9, abortion rights activists gathered in Washington D.C., to speak out against the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. (Video: Reuters)
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