Lawsuit seeking to revoke West Virginia abortion ban dropped

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An abortion provider on Monday dropped a two-month-old federal lawsuit seeking to overturn West Virginia’s near-total ban.

The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia said in a court filing that its primary physician determined he will be unable to resume providing abortion care in the state “due to intervening professional obligations.” Another physician who provided abortion care at West Virginia’s only abortion clinic prior to the passage of a law last year is no longer available, the filing said.

While the developments have not necessarily rendered the case moot, the plaintiffs “have determined that it is in their best interests and the interests of judicial economy to voluntarily dismiss this case without prejudice at this time,” according to the filing in federal court in Charleston.

The lawsuit filed Feb. 1 named the West Virginia Board of Medicine’s president and secretary as defendants. It claimed the law was unconstitutional, irrational and caused irreparable harm to the clinic and its patients.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who had intervened on behalf of the state, said “my office stands ready to defend this clearly constitutional law to the fullest should this lawsuit be refiled, or against any other legal challenge.”

The lawsuit had asked for a halt to the abortion ban while the case was heard. Republican Gov. Jim Justice on Sept. 16 signed a bill passed earlier that week making West Virginia the second state to enact a law prohibiting the procedure since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning its constitutional protection.

The Charleston clinic suspended abortions shortly after lawmakers passed the bill and provided West Virginia women with resources to book appointments out-of-state and funding to help cover the costs of travel and the procedure, clinic Executive Director Katie Quiñonez said.

Last month Quiñonez announced she will serve as executive director of an abortion clinic that will open in June in Cumberland, Maryland, which is close to the West Virginia border.

The West Virginia law requires abortions to be performed by a physician at a hospital — a provision that at least two Republican lawmakers have said was intended to shut down abortions at the Women’s Health Center, which had provided the procedure since 1976. Under the law, providers who perform illegal abortions can face up to 10 years in prison.

The state’s abortion ban has exemptions for medical emergencies and for rape and incest victims until eight weeks of pregnancy for adults and 14 weeks for those under the age of 18. Victims must report their assault to law enforcement 48 hours before the procedure. Minors can report to the police or a doctor, who then must tell police.

More than a dozen states now have abortion bans, though most were approved before the Supreme Court ruling and took effect once the court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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