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W.Va. abortion clinics not cooperating with Morrisey review

West Virginia's two stand-alone abortion clinics aren't cooperating with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's review of abortion regulation.

The clinics -- both located in Charleston -- submitted short responses to Morrisey's inquiry this week, but would not answer the attorney general's specific questions about medical procedures performed at the facilities.

"Hopefully, Mr. Morrisey will accept this as a sign that it is time for him to move on," said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free, an abortion rights group. "We hope Mr. Morrisey will get on with the people's business and stop his politically motivated inquisition."

The ACLU of West Virginia and women's health advocates say Morrisey's review is a veiled attempt to outlaw abortion in the state. Morrisey opposes abortion.

Morrisey sent letters to the abortion clinics on June 17, directing them to answer 17 questions about abortion regulation and medical procedures. Monday was the deadline for the clinics to respond.

In a written response sent to Morrisey's office Tuesday, Dr. Garli Harish of the Kanawha Surgicenter clinic in Kanawha City, said doctors and health advocates are "concerned when...any state official may single out certain health care providers for scrutiny for reasons unrelated to medical care and public health."

Harish added that the clinic "was unaware of any legal obligation" to respond to Morrisey's questions. The attorney general did not issue subpoenas for the information

"We have no objection to confirming that we follow all federal, state and local laws, and that we provide the highest quality of medical care available," Harish wrote to Morrisey. "Our mission is to continue to work every day to make sure West Virginia women receive the medical care they need to stay healthy, to care for themselves, and to care for their families."

In a separate letter, Women's Health Center of West Virginia, told Morrisey that its clinic also "complies with all laws and regulations." But the health center would not disclose its abortion procedures, citing an ongoing lawsuit filed by a Charleston woman who alleges a Women's Health Center doctor botched her abortion last year.

"The center is not in the position of providing substantive responses to your letter," said Sharon Lewis, the clinic's executive director, in a response sent to Morrisey Monday. "...We must decline to respond to your inquiries and allow the discovery process and justice system to address those matters."

Women's Health Center and Surgicenter executives have declined to comment to the media on Morrisey's review.

Morrisey released the abortion clinics' letters Monday amid plans to push ahead with his review - with or without the clinics' cooperation.

"We will continue our efforts to review the state of abortion regulation in West Virginia and seek to ensure that women's health is protected," Morrisey said in prepared statement.

Morrisey started his abortion regulation review last month, citing a lawsuit filed by a Charleston woman against Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens and the Women's Health Center, which provides elective abortions.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a conservative evangelical group that opposes abortion, is representing the 26-year-old woman, Itai Gravely, who alleges Stephens botched her abortion and left the head of the fetus in her uterus.

"We are grateful that the attorney general continues to be concerned about the safety of women," said Jeremiah Dys, president of the Family Policy Council. "It is clearly more important than the abortionists' bottom-line profits."

Dys also took issue with Women's Health Center's response to Morrisey's review.

"It is shocking to see that, despite serious allegations against them, Women's Health Center of West Virginia believes what they did to Itai could possibly be called quality medical services," Dys said. "Whatever regulations Women's Health Center thinks are currently on the books - and we believe there are none - Dr. Stephens and Women's Health Center exposed Itai to extraordinary pain and suffering and placed her life in danger."

Morrisey has said he has the authority to review abortion regulations because he's "West Virginia's chief legal officer...charged with overseeing state legal policy and protecting the public interest."

In his June 17 letter to the abortion clinics, Morrisey asked for specifics about their abortion procedures and "informed consent" practices. The questions included:

  • "Are your physicians required to use ultrasound technology when performing a dilation and curettage procedure for midterm pregnancy?"
  • "At what gestational age do you refuse to perform an elective abortion procedure?"
  • "What are your policies should a patient revoke consent at any point before or during the procedure?"
  • Morrisey has said that no state agencies inspect or regulate abortion clinics in West Virginia.

    Women's health advocates have countered that doctors, nurses and physicians assistants who work at the clinics must be licensed and report to state medical professional boards.

    "Without a doubt, we must be clear that these women's health providers are regulated as any other health-care facility of their type under state and federal laws and regulations," Chapman Pomponio said Tuesday.

    Morrisey's recent actions mirror those of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who has supported bills to curb abortions by licensing and regulating abortion clinics. Cuccinelli spoke at a Morrisey campaign event last year.

    "We would like to remind Mr. Morrisey that West Virginians are different from our neighbors in Virginia where his role model, Attorney General Cuccinelli, led a similar crusade against women's health providers," Chapman Pomponio said. "In West Virginia, we value a woman's health over politics, and we reject this type of government overstep into medicine."

    Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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