12-Year-Old Fights West Virginia's Anti-Abortion Bill During Public Hearing

Ninety speakers had 45 seconds each to weigh in on the restrictive bill, which would make no exceptions for rape or incest.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ninety people, including a 12-year-old girl, spoke about West Virginia’s restrictive abortion bill during a public hearing Wednesday.

The state legislature is considering House Bill 302, which would ban abortions in almost all cases — with limited exceptions for victims and rape or incest, thanks to the passage of an amendment on Wednesday — and allow for prosecution of physicians who perform abortions.

Gov. Jim Justice (R) asked the legislature to “clarify and modernize” the state’s abortion regulations, after a judge blocked an abortion ban from before Roe v. Wade. (Disclosure: The ACLU of West Virginia brought forward that case, and this reporter’s husband was part of the legal team.)

Speakers at Wednesday’s public hearing were given 45 seconds each. The youngest, a girl who identified herself as 12-year-old Addison Gardner from Buffalo Middle School, gave impassioned remarks against the bill.

“I play for varsity volleyball and I run track. My education is very important to me, and I plan on doing great things in life,” she said. “If a man decides that I’m an object, and does unspeakable, tragic things to me, am I, a child, supposed to carry and birth another child?”

“Am I to put my body through the physical trauma of pregnancy? Am I to suffer the mental implications, a child who had no say in what was being done with my body?” she continued. “Some here say they are pro-life. What about my life? Does my life not matter to you?”

A handful of speakers spoke in support of the bill, including several women who’d had abortions and later regretted it. Most of those who spoke were against the bill, calling it “disgusting,” “cowardice,” “delusional” and “inhumane.”

Some employees and volunteers from the Women’s Health Center, the state’s only abortion clinic, appeared, as well as doctors, religious leaders and more. Several speakers, including Women’s Health Center executive director Katie Quiñonez, exceeded the 45-second time limit, continuing to speak as they were escorted out amid cheers.

Ash Orr, a transgender Appalachian organizer whose pronouns are they/he, spoke about their experience being raped at the ages of 9 and 10.

“I want you to explain to me why it would have been OK for me as a child to have carried my rapist’s child,” they said on the House floor. “Explain it to me like I’m one of the children that y’all are willing to traumatize.”

Orr told HuffPost that speaking in front of lawmakers “was an act of resistance and empowerment for me, personally.” Orr, who recently shared their story at an abortion rights rally in front of the state’s capitol, said they want “trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks” to be part of abortion rights conversations.

“As I stated on the House floor, I have watched these legislators strip away my rights as a trans person and as a person with a uterus,” they told HuffPost. “I wanted them to understand that [they] are not pro-life, they are forced birth and pro-control. They are on the side of rapists and I wanted them to sit with that.”

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