Protester Arrested Following Passage Of W.VA. Abortion Ban

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A protester who was forcefully removed from the West Virginia House of Delegates gallery after disrupting debate on a bill to ban abortion earlier this month was arrested more than a week after she and others rallied against the ban at the state Capitol.

Lindsey Jacobs, a 38-year-old lawyer from Morgantown, was arrested Friday and charged with three misdemeanors: obstructing an officer, willful disruption of governmental processes and disorderly conduct against “the peace and dignity of the state," according to a copy of the arrest warrant that she shared with The Associated Press. Misdemeanor offenses come with a penalty of up to $500 and/or up to a year in jail for each conviction.

Jacobs, who runs advocacy programs for a nonprofit legal services organization, was removed from the House chamber's gallery on Sept. 13 while listening to lawmakers discuss legislation — signed into law Sept. 16 by Republican Gov. Jim Justice — that bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with few exceptions. The day the ban was signed into law, a warrant went out for Jacob's arrest.

Morgan Switzer, spokesperson for West Virginia’s Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Capitol police, confirmed Monday that two people protesting the abortion ban were arrested, but said the department needed more time to prepare an official comment. She did not immediately explain why it took more than a week to arrest Jacobs.

During the debate, Republican Del. Margitta Mazzocchi said people who want to protect against pregnancy can buy emergency contraceptives — known as “Plan B” pills — over the counter at pharmacies like Walgreens.

“Not if you’re poor,” Jacobs shouted down at lawmakers, which was followed by shouts from others sitting in the gallery.

Jacobs said she became frustrated listening to Mazzocchi's speech because she felt like the lawmaker was overlooking that the pills cost between $40 and $50, an amount she said is “cost prohibitive for a lot of people.”

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who was presiding over the floor session, asked people in the gallery to remain quiet while lawmakers conducted their business. As shouting continued, he asked security to remove Jacobs. She refused to move, and said she let her body go limp as Capitol police dragged her out of the gallery by her arms.

“Don't just sit there while they take away your rights," she shouted as they dragged her out of the gallery.

Capitol police did not arrest her then and let her leave and walk downstairs, where she rejoined a group of protesters rallying outside the chamber doors for at least an hour, staying until the bill passed.

Another female protester who spoke out while lawmakers were in session was arrested and charged on the spot and escorted out of the building.

In the days following lawmakers' passage of the bill, a video of Jacobs being dragged out of the gallery began circulating on social media. Jacobs said she was tuning into a 9 a.m. work call on Friday at her home in Morgantown — some 125 miles (201 kilometers) from Charleston — when she heard banging on her door. It was state police, and they had a warrant for her arrest.

She was led into the back of a police cruiser and taken to the state police barracks for processing. She was arraigned by a county magistrate on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond. Her court date has not yet been scheduled, she said.

Days after the arrest, Jacobs said she's still in shock.

“I don’t know how to process the fact that the state can come for you days, weeks after you allegedly did something wrong, and especially when they literally had me in their hands,” she said.

She said before the day of that protest, she and other protesters felt a mounting frustration that the public wasn't given enough of an opportunity to voice their opinions about the ban. At the only public hearing held for the bill, people were given only 45 seconds each to speak. People who refused to comply where escorted out by security.

“I wish that I could better articulate the way that it feels to sit and watch the state take a right away from me and others that we’ve had our entire lives,” she said Monday. “To sit there and watch them casually and I think callously talk about abortion in really clinical terms, it just made it really obvious to me that my life is less important than someone else’s life.

“We can all disagree — I certainly disagree — with their interpretation of when life begins. But it is maddening beyond words that I have to describe it and also it makes me feel and it continues to make me feel very powerless. ”