Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston said he was surprised at West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's veto of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have prohibited nonmedical crisis abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization.
Tomblin vetoed the bill late Friday.
"I am very surprised by Gov. Tomblin's veto of the Pain-Capable Act," the bishop said. "For most West Virginians, this is bitter news, especially on the heels of the governor's use of his ability to veto budgeted items to cut benefits to poor children and families in West Virginia."
His veto of the abortion measure, the bishop said, "does not reflect the majority opinion of the state Legislature, who worked hard this session to do more to help children in poverty and protect life, particularly unborn children."
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was put forth in response to medical evidence that demonstrates an unborn child already has the ability to feel pain at 20 weeks, the bishop said in early March. The measure passed the West Virginia Senate March 8 by a vote of 29-5 and the state House Feb. 26 by a vote of 79-17. Bransfield thanked state legislators who voted for the bill.
Leaders of pro-life groups also expressed their surprise at the veto.
National Right to Life in a statement noted that a nationwide poll of 1,003 registered voters in March 2013 found that 64 percent of respondents would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks -- when an unborn baby can feel pain -- unless the life of the mother is in danger. Only 30 percent opposed such legislation. Women voters split 63-31 percent in support of such a law, and 63 percent of independent voters supported it.
"Gov. Tomblin's veto of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is a total abandonment of the most vulnerable unborn children in West Virginia," said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.
"The governor has placed himself in a minority position on this bill," said Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life.
[Colleen Rowan is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.]