Abortions rights rally at state Capitol
Angered by proposed regulations targeting the state's abortion clinics, a crowd of people filled the lower rotunda of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon.
The crowd, which advocates numbered at 300 or more, gathered to protest state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's review of the state's abortion regulations.
Abortion rights advocates argue the review is the first step in imposing restrictive regulations on the state's two abortion clinics, which could lead to limiting women's access to abortion.
"He thinks that a woman can't make her own personal, private decisions," Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, an abortion rights group, said to the crowd. "He thinks that he knows what's best for women. Here's a fact: he doesn't."
She added that Morrisey's singling out of the state's only two abortion clinics made his motives transparent.
"Thousands of women died before Roe v. Wade," Chapman Pomponio said. "They died, so I find it particularly appalling and offensive that someone who was around when women were dying and they know about it, that that they would push an agenda to make abortion illegal. That is sad and it's gross."
The crowd, made up mostly of women but with some men, filled the lower rotunda at the Capitol and chanted in the direction of Morrisey's office.
"Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate," and "Patrick Morrisey back away, abortion rights are here to stay," the women yelled.
Besides WV Free, groups including Planned Parenthood, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the West Virginia Nurses' Association and Fairness West Virginia hosted the rally.
The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a conservative group that opposes abortion, has called for more abortion regulations in the state. The group represents a woman who says she received a botched abortion at the Women's Health Center, one of two abortion clinics in West Virginia, both in Charleston.
The medical staff at abortion clinics, like other medical facilities in the state, are regulated by licensing boards.
Morrisey accepted public comments on the issue recently during a comment period that ended Friday. The attorney general has not released the findings from that comment period.
Morrisey issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the crowd's First Amendment right to express their opinions of the review.
"Our review is focusing on the laws governing abortion regulation in the state of West Virginia," Morrisey said in a press release. "For example, under the law it is indisputable that abortion is permitted until birth in our state. That's up until birth, not until 20 or 30 weeks.
"What are the regulatory standards in West Virginia for governing abortions, which are legal in the state until birth? Our review is analyzing this question and many others that have been raised by people across the political spectrum," Morrisey said in part. "After our review concludes, we will be in a position to identify the exact nature of abortion laws and regulations in West Virginia."
Morrisey went on to note that a bipartisan group of legislators asked for a review of the state's abortion laws.
A few people with anti-abortion messages on T-shirts and signs stood quietly and watched the rally from above.
Janet Messana, of Charleston, was 16 when she found out she was pregnant. Because that was in the days before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, she had no choice but to get married, she said.
"I was forced into [marriage] practically," Messana said. "I just feel like a women's health care decisions should be between a woman's family, her faith and in consultation with her doctors."
Would she have made a different choice had abortion been legal at the time?
"That's a difficult question," she said. She loves her son, but she's spoken with him about it. He would like for his own daughters to have a choice, she said.
"It's scary because you don't know if you're going to be a good parent," she said, adding that she was fortunate to have help raising her son from her parents and in-laws. "I was fortunate that he turned out well."
Rev. Jim Lewis, the former priest of St. John's Episcopal Church, where the Women's Health Center was founded in the mid-1970s, gave the invocation at the rally.
"Now [the Women's Health Care Center] is under attack all these years later," Lewis said. "As long as my heart is beating, I'm going to be standing for that center and the people who do this work, this hard work."
Kevin Conner, 24, of Charleston, was among several men who participated in the rally.
"I support that [women] should have the freedom to decide for themselves," Conner, a student at West Virginia State University, said.
Conner likened the struggle for women's reproductive rights to that of blacks' fight for equality.
"History is repeating itself," Conner said. "I don't understand why this is happening again."
Betty Totten, of Ravenswood, attended the rally along with four other ladies representing the Jackson County Democratic Women.
"Basically we have to stop this man [Morrisey] from doing what he's trying to do," Totten said. "He has no concern for the welfare of women, he's only pushing an agenda." Reach Lori Kersey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1240.