West Virginia Senate OKs bill requiring schools to show anti-abortion group fetal development video

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Republican-majority Senate greenlit a bill on Tuesday that would make a video on fetal development produced by an anti-abortion group required viewing in public schools.

Live Action’s “Baby Olivia” video, which West Virginia lawmakers want to show in eighth and tenth-grade classrooms, has received criticism from physicians and educators who say it misleads viewers. It is already being used in some schools in North Dakota, though it wasn’t specifically mandated in the law passed last year in that state. Similar bills have been proposed in Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.

The bill now heads to the House of Delegates for consideration.

The animated video is meant to visualize development in the womb, depicting an egg being fertilized and implanted and progressing through embryonic and fetal developments occurring throughout a pregnancy. A voiceover introduces viewers to Olivia as an illustration of a fully developed baby in utero appears on screen. Olivia’s mouth and eyes open and close, and her hands move.

The video refers to a “heartbeat” at six weeks. At that point, the embryo isn’t yet a fetus and doesn’t have a heart. It also describes the animated figure’s motion and actions with words like “playing,” “exploring,” “sighing,” and making “speaking movements” — language critics have said assign human traits and properties to a fetus that are more sophisticated than medicine can prove.

Speaking during his chamber’s floor Tuesday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo said he couldn’t support the bill because it contains “grossly inaccurate” information contradictory to science. A working pulmonologist, he had pushed for a change to the bill that would have required any video shown in school to be scientifically accurate. That effort failed.

“If we’re going to codify something that we’re going to teach, ‘this is fact,’ it needs to be fact,” he said.

Republican Sen. Amy Grady, the chamber’s education chair and a public school teacher, said the legislation is not “anti-abortion.” Grady, who voted for the state’s near-total abortion ban that passed in 2022, said all of her students have different learning styles: some like reading textbooks, some are more tactile learners, others visual learners.

“Those photos in a textbook help some students, but not all of them,” she said. “This computer-generated image or this computer-generated video, an animated video, puts it in terms that kids can understand and it lets them see it, and lets them see the growth happen.”

Republican Patricia Rucker said the video “is not political and it is not religious: It is a springboard for conversation.”

“It does not replace the resources teachers are using right now, currently, in the state of West Virginia — it’s not asking them to throw a single one of those resources out,” she said. “It is one short video shown twice in our schools to help make the subject more approachable.”

Democratic Sen. Mike Woelfel said, however, that he fears it runs afoul of the First Amendment right to religious freedom. His personal belief, like Grady’s, is that life begins at conception, but not everyone agrees, he said.

He mentioned Jewish students, citing a belief in that faith that life begins at birth. The same argument has been used to challenge abortion bans across the country in court.

“I don’t have any problem with the video — I would gladly show that video in the Catholic school that my grandchildren attend,” he said. “But I’ve taken an oath to obey the Constitution and to uphold it, and for that reason, I would urge a no vote.”

The “Baby Olivia” bill also contains a provision added after its introduction that requires the teaching of the Holocaust and a reading of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank in tenth or eleventh grade.

Live Action says on its website it “exists today to shift public opinion” on abortion and is dedicated to supporting a “culture of life.”

The organization spent nearly $5 million in 2022 to create and distribute content widely, according to filing reports. Those reports also show Live Action more than quadrupled its cash from contributions and grants in just four years, totaling $14 million in 2022.

Live Action also is known for efforts to expose Planned Parenthood, publishing videos and reports obtained by posing as patients.

Founder Lila Rose told The Associated Press the video was made in consultation with doctors and was designed to be informative, lifelike and appropriate for anyone. It calls out general markers in what Rose said is an “average developmental process” using “weeks after fertilization.” That’s different from “weeks after the last menstrual cycle,” which is what a pregnant person would typically hear from a doctor.


Associated Press reporter Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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