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Abortion activists 'Twitter storm' W.Va. attorney general

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey asked for public comment on proposed abortion regulations. On Thursday, he got it.

Abortion rights advocates took to social media to respond to what they consider an effort to restrict women's reproductive rights.

 "We are having a Twitter storm to send a message to the attorney general that West Virginians are paying attention to his attacks on women's health and we are spreading excitement about the rally Aug. 20," said Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights group WV Free.

The "Twitter storm" was scheduled for 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday.

During that time, advocates from all over the country tweeted to Morrisey's account. "Time for [Morrisey] to end the attack on women & get back to work for the people," Twitter user Beth K., of Charleston, wrote.

"This abortion regulation is unnecessary, politically motivated, and will make quality health care less available," West Virginia's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote.

Morrisey will accept public comment related to possible abortion regulations until 5 p.m. Friday.

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a Christian evangelical group that opposes abortion and is suing a Charleston abortion clinic, wants the regulations. The group says its "Illuminate" campaign is a push for more safety in the abortion industry. Pro-choice activists and other groups, though, say more rules would only restrict women's access to abortion services.

West Virginia has two abortion clinics, both of which are in Charleston.

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

In his request for public comments, Morrisey listed "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."

A spokeswoman for Morrisey said she would not comment on the response from the public until the deadline is past.

"It seems like an orchestrated attempt to advance an agenda," Sarah Rogers, a staff attorney for the state chapter of the ACLU, said of efforts to put more abortion regulations in place. "And we think this is a veiled attempt to limit access to health services."

Several groups, including WVFree, Planned Parenthood, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the West Virginia Nurses' Association and Fairness West Virginia, are planning to rally against the proposed regulations Tuesday at the Capitol Complex.

More than 350 people have said on Facebook they will attend the rally, scheduled for noon Tuesday in the Upper Rotunda of the Capitol, Pomponio said.

"We are incredibly heartened by the response," she said. "There are people coming from around the state . . .  . I've been with WV Free for more than 10 years, and I haven't seen this kind of energy. Period."

Nor has she seen a bigger affront to women's reproductive rights in the state, she said. "I would say that West Virginians know when they're being bamboozled," Pomponio said. "We understand that the attorney general has teamed up with a fringe political organization to take women back in time. To see that coordination is what is so unsettling and alarming to people.  . . . This rally is sending a strong message: West Virginia women don't want your time machine, Mr. Morrisey."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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