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W.Va. attorney general seeks public comment on abortion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants to hear what the public has to say about abortion laws and regulations.

Morrisey's office started soliciting public comments Wednesday amid the attorney general's ongoing review of abortion regulation. Morrisey said he's seeking comments about abortion in "West Virginia and elsewhere."

"Our goal is to rise above the name-calling and attacks and make this a thoughtful, civil process that focuses on the law and the facts," Morrisey said in a statement posted on his website.

The West Virginia ACLU and women's health advocates say that the review is a veiled attempt by Morrisey, an abortion opponent, to outlaw abortion in West Virginia. West Virginia has two stand-alone abortion clinics -- both located in Charleston.

"He's making a mockery of medicine and government," said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of West Virginia Free, an abortion rights group. "West Virginians don't deserve this overreach from their attorney general."

In his "call for comments" Wednesday, Morrisey said his office has completed a preliminary review, finding that West Virginia law doesn't require abortions to be performed by licensed doctors. Nor does state law set a "gestational age limit" -- a specific point during pregnancy in which an abortion is prohibited, Morrisey said.

State laws require only "informed consent" and "parental notification," he said.

"After a preliminary review, we are aware that few provisions of the West Virginia code govern abortions in the state," Morrisey said in his statement.

Like other states, West Virginia law requires women seeking abortion to undergo a 24-hour waiting period and for female minors' parents to be notified. West Virginia is one of 11 states that doesn't require a licensed doctor to perform an abortion, according to a Guttmacher Institute report on abortion laws released earlier this month.

In his request for public comments, Morrisey lists "relevant topics" that he wants "interested stakeholders" and the general public to comment on specifically. Those include:

* Educational materials gathered by "any other West Virginia government official" on abortion regulation.

* Gestational age limits and informed consent standards.

* Reasons why hospitals, physicians' offices, surgical facilities and abortion clinics face different "regulatory treatment."

* How West Virginia's abortion laws and regulations compare to those in other states.

* "Regulations and standards for health-care facilities generally and abortion clinics specifically."

Morrisey started his abortion review last month, citing a lawsuit filed by a Charleston woman against Dr. Rodney Lee Stephens and the Women's Health Center of West Virginia, 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. Stephens and Women's Health Center have denied the allegations.

On June 17, Morrisey sent a letter to the Women's Health Center and Kanawha Surgicenter, a stand-alone abortion clinic located in Kanawha City. The attorney general directed the clinics to answer 17 questions about abortion regulation and medical procedures.

The clinics refused to answer Morrisey's specific questions, alleging that Morrisey had singled out their facilities "for reasons unrelated to medical care and public health."

Morrisey's critics say the attorney general has overstepped his authority with his review of abortion regulation. Morrisey has said he's well within his right to examine abortion because he's "West Virginia's chief legal officer."

"It appears Mr. Morrisey want to create a circus like they're having in Texas," Chapman Pomponio said. "He's using his office to stir up controversy. He's showboating."

The Texas House approved new abortion limits Wednesday in a special session. The bill, which previously sparked a filibuster and mass protests, allows abortions only in surgical centers and bans abortions after 20 weeks. The Texas Senate is expected to pass the bill as early as Friday. Abortion rights groups plan to file federal lawsuits, alleging the bill is unconstitutional. 

Morrisey said the public should submit written comments via email to regulatoryreview@wvago.gov by 5 p.m. Aug. 16.

"My goal is to ensure our review is as thorough and transparent as possible," he said.

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

 

 

 


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