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Abortion rights advocates: 'Illuminate' meant to stop abortions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While a state anti-abortion organization pushes for more regulations, abortion rights advocates call the campaign a veiled effort to end the practice in West Virginia.

"If this were about protecting women's health, we would be behind it," said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights group WV Free. "A critical piece [of women's health care] is abortion care, and we believe masquerading under the guise of caring for women is a terribly deceiving message.

"Women's health providers are already regulated like any other facility or healthcare provider of their kind."

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, an anti-abortion group, started the Illuminate campaign, which the group calls an effort to ensure safety in the abortion industry.

The state monitors doctors and nurses, but not the clinics they work in, the same as it does for other health-care providers.

The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group that monitors such regulations nationally, said 2013 will see a near record-high number of state-level restrictions on abortions.

Among the most prominent are those like the one Virginia recently passed, which Guttmacher describes as a "thicket, designed not to benefit patients, but to make it impossible for many providers to come into compliance."

The Virginia state board of health passed laws that require that abortion clinics meet the standards for newly constructed hospitals including 5-foot-wide public hallways, large janitors closets and four parking spaces per surgical room.

Under pressure from attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia board also ruled that existing clinics would have to meet those requirements and not be "grandfathered" in, according to media reports.

Cuccinelli campaigned for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey before last year's election. Morrisey recently sent letters to both of West Virginia's abortion clinics questioning their practices. He is now accepting public comment on potential abortion regulations.

Abortion rights advocates told media outlets that making the changes would cost the clinics tens of thousands to millions of dollars. Earlier this month, Virginia's busiest abortion clinic closed.

Chapman Pomponio called the Illuminate campaign an effort to close clinics in a state that already has too few.

"We already only have two clinics in the state and the goal, to lay bear the goal of the Illuminate campaign, they don't want women to have access to abortion in West Virginia, in the United States, in the world," Chapman Pomponio said.

A spokeswoman for the State Department of Health and Human Resources said last month that abortions and other medical and surgical procedures are done according to existing medical standard of care for such procedures.

Jeremiah Dys, president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, said abortion clinics should be regulated separately from other surgical centers in the state because they "destroy human life."

Dys' group represents a woman suing the Women's Health Center of West Virginia and a doctor there. The lawsuit alleges that the woman suffered a botched abortion at Women's Health Center and that she was restrained and forced to have an abortion against her will.

"If leaving the head of a baby inside of its mother for 24 hours is safe care, I fear what is bad and unsafe care," Dys said. "If that is quality medical care, heaven help us if we find unsafe care."

He questioned whether abortion doctors have admitting privileges at area hospitals. He also asked whether medications are sealed and dispensed in the proper fashion and if health care workers turn a gurney around in the hallway of a clinic.

Chapman Pomponio said the fact that Morrisey's agenda is so in line with the Family Policy Council is unsettling.

"It's clearly a political crusade," she said. "It's not about women's health.

"And if [they] have their way, they would be responsible for putting a woman who has decided to end her pregnancy in a desperate, unsafe condition and that is the real safety issue.

"If they were to be successful, where would women turn and where did women turn before abortion was legal?" Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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