Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) said he will vote against a proposed amendment to the West Virginia constitution that would end taxpayer-funded abortion.
The Democrat announced his opposition to Amendment 1 at a Thursday debate with Republican nominee, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The initiative would establish that the state constitution does not guarantee abortion as a right, which would overturn a 1993 West Virginia Supreme Court ruling allowing Medicaid funding to be used for elective abortions. Under the current regime, 1,500 abortions are performed every year in the state using taxpayer funding. Manchin insisted he is pro-life, but believes taxpayers should pay for some abortions.
"I have voted pro-life my entire career with the exceptions of the life of the mother, rape, and incest," he said. "If the amendment doesn't have that in there, then no."
The amendment would not prevent anyone meeting Manchin's conditions from obtaining abortion, but it would stop West Virginia taxpayers from footing the bill. Morrisey called Manchin's attack on the ballot initiative "dishonest."
"This is what you get when you have a dishonest Washington liberal," Morrisey said. "I oppose taxpayer funding of abortion."
Manchin's campaign did not respond to request for comment. The candidate has campaigned as a moderate pro-life Democrat. In 2014, he became the first Democrat to endorse the 20-week ban on abortion. During the 2018 midterms, however, Manchin has attempted to woo the Democratic party base, vowing to protect Planned Parenthood's annual $500 million income from taxpayers. The transition has angered pro-life activists who once considered Manchin an ally.
Susan B. Anthony List, a group that works to elect pro-life women, previously worked with Manchin to make inroads in Democratic politics. Manchin's support for Planned Parenthood funding led it to campaign against him. It has now spent more than $500,000 for voter outreach against a politician who broke his promise to constituents.
"Senator Manchin has betrayed his pro-life constituents and turned his back on the most vulnerable West Virginians," Susan B. Anthony List spokesman Mallory Quigley said. "In no sense can he call himself ‘pro-life’ when he votes to force taxpayers to fund abortion on demand, leading to the destruction of 1,500 innocent unborn children in his own state every year."
Other pro-life advocates were not surprised to see Manchin's opposition to the amendment. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said Manchin's commitment to his political career and the Democratic base takes precedence over his position on abortion.
"Amendment 1's passage would not have any present effect on the legality or availability of abortions in West Virginia, and supporting it ought to be an uncontroversial position for even the most tepid pro-lifer," Schilling said. "That Manchin was unable to back even this modest measure undermines every claim he has ever made about being pro-life."
West Virginia has been one of the most closely watched Senate races in the midterm elections as Manchin seeks reelection in a state President Trump won by more than 40 points. Republicans have focused their campaign on discrediting Manchin's claims to being a conservative Democrat. The Morrisey campaign said Manchin's approach to Amendment 1 demonstrates his commitment to protecting abortion even if it means forcing West Virginian taxpayers to pay for it. Campaign spokesman Nathan Brand told the Washington Free Beacon that Manchin's claims about being personally pro-life could not be trusted in light of his vote.
"Joe Manchin's opposition to pro-life Amendment One is just the latest example of why pro-life West Virginians can't trust him to stand for the sanctity of life," Brand said in an email. "Manchin has a record of sending taxpayer dollars to the nation's biggest abortion provider Planned Parenthood and supporting pro-abortion Hillary Clinton."
Manchin has led in the polls throughout the race, but Morrisey has closed the gap in October with surveys showing the Democrat’s lead fall from 16 points to 5, according to Real Clear Politics.