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Dem governor candidate Williams calls for abortion ballot measure to make special session agenda


Dem governor candidate Williams calls for abortion ballot measure to make special session agenda

May 02, 2024 | 12:59 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
Dem governor candidate Williams calls for abortion ballot measure to make special session agenda
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, a Democratic candidate for governor, launched a petition calling on leaders to include abortion in the upcoming legislative special session. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

Steve Williams, a Democrat running to be the next governor, has launched a state-wide petition calling for Gov. Jim Justice to include reproductive freedom on the agenda for the upcoming legislative special session.

He hopes, should Justice OK the issue for special session, that the Republican-majority Legislature will approve a ballot measure that gives voters the chance to reinstate abortion rights.

Williams, who is mayor of Huntington, cited former Republican President Donald Trump’s call to leave the issue up to the states.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue,” Williams said in a news release on Thursday. “Gov. Justice and the West Virginia Legislature should listen to Trump and let the people decide by putting this question on November’s ballot.” 

In February, Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, and seven Democrat colleagues, introduced legislation calling for a ballot measure to let voters decide whether a person has the right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including decisions related to contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care and abortion.

The legislation got zero traction during the regular session. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, West Virginia lawmakers passed a near total abortion ban. 

Since the Supreme Court ruling, some states, including Ohio, have voted through constitutional amendments to protect access to abortions. 

Williams said West Virginia voters deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard “on restoring this fundamental freedom.”

“To opponents of reproductive freedom, I say if you believe the majority of West Virginians agree with you, then you have no reason to oppose this vote,” he said, adding that the petition is available at freedomwv.com.

“If you don’t think the majority agree with you, then at least have the courage to tell the voters that Trump is wrong and that West Virginia citizens shouldn’t be allowed to decide this question at the ballot box.”

The four prominent Republican men running for governor have all previously said that they didn’t plan to change West Virginia’s current abortion ban.

Candidate Moore Capito, who is in a tight race with Patrick Morrisey to win the May primary, voted to change the state’s abortion law while serving in the House of Delegates.

West Virginia’s abortion ban has few exemptions minus medical emergencies and for rape and incest victims until eight weeks of pregnancy for adults and 14 weeks for children – but only if they report to law enforcement first. 

West Virginia voters in 2018 approved an anti-abortion amendment. State Democrats have said that they believe the outcome would be different now following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. 

State lawmakers are expected to return to Charleston for a special session in the coming months due to lingering budget issues that weren’t resolved by March adjournment.