Senate passes ‘pro-life bill’ requiring eighth graders to watch a cartoon which teaches life begins at conception

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Senate, on Tuesday, approved legislation requiring public schools to show eighth graders a cartoon which teaches life begins at conception. 

Introduced by Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, SB 468 requires public school students to submit to the viewing of a three minute animated video called “Meet Baby Olivia,” produced by anti-abortion lobbyist and activist organization Live Action. Students would first be required to submit to viewing the video in eighth grade, then again in tenth grade as a “refresher.”

The video explicitly refers to egg-fertilization as “the moment that life begins,” further dramatizing the occurrence with the addition of a flashing white light. The video is available for viewing on Live Action’s YouTube channel, as well as Live Action’s website. The introduced version of the bill mandated that the video be shown to third graders, however that mandate was changed to students in the eighth and tenth grades in a committee substitute. The committee substitute also removed the ability of the Attorney General to bring suit against any school personnel in violation of the terms of the bill. 

While, during debate on the floor, Education Committee Chair Amy Grady, R-Mason, agreed with Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, that SB 468 was not an “anti-abortion bill,” Woelfel still raised concerns over constitutionality.

“I personally believe that life does begin at conception,” Woelfel said. “The problem is […] that’s a sincerely held religious belief, and other folks that have different faiths have their own sincerely held religious beliefs which are contrary to that. That’s where we get into trouble with the 14th Amendment, and with the 1st Amendment.”

“The 1st Amendment is the 1st Amendment for a reason,” Woelfel continued. “People came to this country because they suffered religious persecution around the world. They came to America to escape that.”

“Our Founders put the 1st Amendment first for a reason,” Woelfel added. “I would gladly show that video in the Catholic school that my grandchildren attend. But at the end of the day, I’ve taken an oath to obey the Constitution, and to uphold it. For that reason I would urge a no-vote on the bill.”

Also speaking in opposition was Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, who said, “The problem I have with it is there are inaccuracies in the video.”

According to Takubo, the way Live Action factors menstrual cycles into their calculations of gestation is “grossly inaccurate.”

“If we’re going to codify something that we’re going to teach as fact, it needs to be fact,” Takubo said. “The second piece is we’ve been down this road with other legislation.”

Takubo then cited previous legislation requiring all schools to ensure the availability of EpiPens to assist students and staff who suffer an allergic reaction. 

“What [EpiPen] didn’t say is that a year from now those pens are going to expire, and we’re going to change the price from $30 to $300 per pen, and every school system is now on the hook to continue to pay for that,” Takubo added. “I have an issue with a company coming in and saying, ‘We have to use a specific company – a specific video,’ with no guarantees that down the road they can’t do that (raise prices).”

While speaking in favor of the bill, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, said, “Early on in this debate, the question was raised whether this bill had anything to do with abortion. The truth is this is a pro-life bill.”

“But it’s not a pro-life bill in the typical pro-life sense,” Karnes added. “What this pro-life bill does is it’s going to show children – it’s going to dispel the notion of something that has been spread out there, false information – it’s not a clump of cells. […] This bill is going to cause fewer people to make a choice for abortion because they’ll realize that what they’re carrying is indeed a human being.” 

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

“The world changes around us,” Blair said. “The way the bill was constructed was that the video we’re talking about could be used. But the world changes around us, so I wanted to make it so we’re prepared long into the future to preserve this.”

“I want to demonstrate something to you,” Blair continued. “100 years ago, there was this gentleman who wasn’t a doctor, that took premature babies that were dying on a regular basis – they were going to die. He figured out, because he seen how chickens were hatched in a hatchery – the little chicks. He did the same thing for premature babies in Coney Island, and he charged nothing to do these babies and put them in incubators, and kept them alive.”

“People came through and looked and seen that happen,” Blair added. “The healthcare industry wasn’t doing it. They accepted the fact that they were premature and they died. The reason I bring this up is because the world changes around us – the world changes around us and I’m certain it’s gonna continue to change into the future.”

SB 468 passed the Senate by a vote of 26 to six. Takubo and Woelfel both voted against passage, as did Senators Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; Charles Trump, R-Morgan; and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. The bill will now be reported to the House of Delegates for further consideration.

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of SB 468 as additional information is made available. 

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