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Jefferson delegate reviewing 'crisis pregnancy centers'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In an apparent response to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's ongoing inquiry into abortion regulation, a Jefferson County lawmaker has started a separate review into "crisis pregnancy centers" that counsel pregnant women against having an abortion.

Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, has sent letters to 37 such facilities across the state, asking about their personnel, policies and practices.

Skinner said the crisis pregnancy centers give the appearance that they offer comprehensive medical and reproductive health care, but typically don't have licensed medical professionals on staff. Pro-life Christian groups typically run the facilities.

"This is about protecting the health of women," Skinner said. "A woman who is seeking medical assistance may be deceived by these centers' names, advertising and locations into believing she will receive comprehensive reproductive care."

One such clinic -- Woman's Choice Pregnancy Resource Center -- recently relocated to a building on Charleston's West Side beside Women's Health Center of West Virginia, one of two stand-alone abortion clinics in West Virginia.

"These crisis pregnancy centers are not licensed or regulated by the state, and there just isn't much factual information out there about them," Skinner said. "I believe it is imperative to obtain specifics about the practices and procedures of these centers."

Earlier this year, Morrisey, a Republican who opposes abortion, started a review of abortion regulation in West Virginia after a Charleston woman filed a lawsuit against Women's Health Center and its doctor, alleging he botched her abortion. The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a Christian evangelical group, is representing the woman.

Amid his review, Morrisey directed Women's Health Center and a Kanawha City abortion clinic to answer 17 questions about medical procedures and personnel. The clinics responded with letters, but didn't answer Morrisey's specific questions.

Skinner, meanwhile, asked the crisis pregnancy centers 40 questions in letters he sent out last week.

Among the questions:

• Does the center have licensed medical staff?

• Does the center provide ultrasounds?

• What kind of information does the clinic provide on birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion?

• Does the center have a plan to ensure it's providing medically accurate information?

In his letter, Skinner said a woman's health may be put in danger if she believes she will receive medical care -- or believes she's talked to a medical professional -- when visiting a crisis pregnancy center. Such facilities have been accused of spreading false medical information about abortion health risks in some states.

In February, a Missouri woman told state lawmakers that she went to a crisis pregnancy center, where a clinic staff member told her she was no longer pregnant and had likely miscarried. However, the woman was pregnant and later had to have emergency surgery to remove her Fallopian tube.

Skinner said there's little information about crisis pregnancy centers that operate in West Virginia. He asked the centers to respond to his questions within 30 days.

"A woman deserves to know exactly what kinds of services these clinics actually provide, so she can make informed choices about her health," Skinner said. "I would hope these facilities would be forthcoming about that. If not, then perhaps state regulators or health-care licensing boards should intervene."

The Gazette contacted Woman's Choice Pregnancy Resource Center Monday, requesting comment on Skinner's letter. The center's director did not return a phone message.

Also Monday, an anti-abortion group urged churches across West Virginia to take part in an Oct. 6 event to "remember lives lost to the abortion industry."

The Family Policy Council is organizing "Illuminate Sunday" -- part of the evangelical Christian group's ongoing push to regulate abortion in West Virginia.

"We only ask that churches across this state take time on Oct. 6 to solemnly remember those lives lost to abortion and pray for those lives that have been affected by the abortion industry," said Jeremiah Dys, the council's president.

Several ministers joined Dys at a press conference Monday to announce the Oct. 6 anti-abortion event.

"The purpose of the 'Illuminate' effort is to shine light on the abortion industry that is largely unregulated," said Seth Polk, pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church. "For the health and safety of women and unborn children, we believe action needs to be taken."

West Virginians for Life, an anti-abortion group, pledged Monday to support Morrisey and his abortion review.

The group said abortion clinics should be licensed and regulated.

"Contrary to the claims of the pro-abortion lobby, it is not 'pro-woman' to subject women with a problem pregnancy to substandard and unregulated medical facilities that wouldn't be tolerated in general medical practice," said Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life.

On the other side, women's health advocates plan to rally at the state Capitol today to protest proposed regulations that restrict abortion in West Virginia. They say Morrisey's review is a veiled attempt to outlaw abortion in the state.

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


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