There are a lot of differences between the individual states regarding abortion. Some states have full-out bans from the point of conception while others ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In California, abortion is legal up until the fetus is “viable,” but is always legal when necessary to protect the health or life of the woman.
West Virginia has a law in place from the 1800s that some argue to be the law of the land since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. “Abortion was prosecuted as a crime in West Virginia for doctors, pregnant women and, sometimes, those who tried to assist them under a statute that dates back to the 1800s,” reports WV Metro News. “After 1973s Roe vs. Wade ruling established a federally-guaranteed right to abortion, the West Virginia law remained on the books but was not enforced, they said.
Everyone seems to agree that the 1800s statute as written puts doctors and nurses at risk for three to 10 years in prison, but could also apply to women who seek an abortion and anyone who assists them.
An article in the Wheeling Intelligencer from 1877 has a story about a woman who sought an abortion then. The article, called “Feminine Follies,” said, “[l]ast evening, Samuel Motto went before Squire Phillips and swore on his oath that Ida Meredith had unlawfully and feloniously destroyed her unborn child by means of an instrument made of wire and a pencil. Mrs. Samuel Motto was arrested as an accomplice in producing the abortion. Both women were held in the sum of $1,000 each for their appearance before Squire Phillips at 2 o’clock this evening. Not being able to give the required bond, both were jailed.”
The ACLU has filed suit in West Virginia. They tweeted: “BREAKING: We’re suing West Virginia in state court to prevent the enforcement of a criminal ban on nearly all abortions. This law, originally enacted in the 1800s, makes it a felony to provide an abortion, punishable by up to ten years in prison.”
It is noteworthy that the West Virginia law predates the 19th Amendment when women won the right to vote.
Women’s Health Center of West Virginia was the only surviving provider of abortions when Roe was overturned. It has halted abortions out of concern of prosecution.
The legal filing that challenged the 1800s law cites several other cases from days gone by, reports the WV Metro News. These stories include the following: “William Porter, Jr. was charged ‘with giving medicine to Mary Imer, to procure an abortion,’ according to an 1892 crime blotter headlined “A Serious Charge” in the Wheeling Daily Register. For months, Porter had eluded arrest but then turned himself in.”
Another cited story is this one: “In March 1894, ‘Mrs. Susan Mulvey, accused of procuring an abortion on Ethel Cooper, and indicted jointly with James Bachmann for that crime, was tried to a jury’ and convicted, according to another crime blotter in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer newspaper. Buchanan was accused of driving her there.”
And the last one: “A May 5, 1916, a brief article on the front page of the Intelligencer described the death of a patient caused by ‘dirty instruments.’ A jury found that ‘Gertrude Kemple came to her death from blood poisoning which resulted from a criminal operation performed upon her by Dr. B.H. Stillyard . . . with intent to procure and produce an abortion and the destruction of her unborn child.'”
It will be interesting to see what happens in West Virginia. Many West Virginians have pointed out, on Twitter, that beastality is still legal there, while abortion is not. Should West Virginia start prosecuting under the 1800’s law, or update it?