Expert: Abortion bill extremely unlikely to affect any West Virginians

Dr. Leo Brancazio, chairman of West Virginia University School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Charleston – An abortion bill, up for third and final reading in the House of Delegates Wednesday, would have an "extremely small" likelihood of affecting any West Virginian, according to the chairman of West Virginia University School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

House Bill 4007, sponsored by Delegate Ruth Rowan, R- Hampshire, would require that if an infant were born alive during an attempted abortion, physicians must "(e)xercise the same degree of reasonable medical judgment to preserve the life and health of the child as a physician would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age."

West Virginia has a 20-week ban on abortions. Doctors consider gestational age to begin with the woman's last period, not conception, so abortions are generally permitted up to 22 weeks in the state. 

According to Dr. Leo Brancazio, who heads WVU's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it would be extremely unlikely for an infant born that early to survive, so "reasonable" care would likely mean "comfort" measures, which he compared to hospice care.

"You could read reports, 'baby survives,' but those are the exceptions, like a baby being struck by lightning," he said.

Brancazio said the main effect of the bill would be physicians who perform abortions needing to gather input from pediatricians about what would constitute "reasonable medical judgment."

"To be honest, if there are Democrats who are pro-choice and they vote for that, I can understand it because again, nothing is 100 percent but the chance of this truly affecting any West Virginian is extremely small," Brancazio said.

Brancazio still said, however, that he considers the bill an "anti-woman" bill.

“If they’re going to be political, I’m going to be political," he said. "It’s anti-woman.”

He said that abortions later in pregnancy are usually "desperate situations."

"The mother’s health is at risk, the fetus has horrible anomalies often not compatible with life, or if it is compatible with life, they will have long-term disability," he said.

Delegate Jeff Pack, R- Raleigh and a co-sponsor of the bill, said he had read of cases nationwide in which infants were born alive at that age and survived, but said he didn't have the source of that information handy Tuesday.

Pack also said that keeping the infant comfortable, as Brancazio had described, would fulfill the requirements of the bill.

"They couldn't merely just take them and lay them on the exam table somewhere," Pack said. "They would have to attempt to make them comfortable. All it does, it attempts to provide that child with a bit of humanity and if they're able to – if that child's able to survive that's great, if unfortunately that poor child dies in the process but yet was made comfortable, then they have satisfied the intent of the bill." 

"I think people are misconstruing this," Pack added. "This isn't a restrictive abortion bill, per say. This is simply saying that if these children are born alive, that we have to make an effort on their behalf. It doesn't say they have to guarantee a positive outcome that the child necessarily recovers."

If the bill passes the House of Delegates Wednesday, it would have to pass the state Senate before it became law.

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