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W.Va., Colo. abortion lawsuits very similar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lawsuit filed against a Charleston abortion clinic alleging a botched procedure shares key similarities with one filed earlier this year against a Colorado clinic.

Attorneys representing both women are associated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that opposes abortion.

In June, Itai Gravely, a 26-year-old represented by Jeremiah Dys of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Rodney Stephens of Women's Health Center, an abortion clinic in Charleston.

In February, Ayanna Byer, represented by attorney Doug Romero of the Denver-based Colorado Christian Defense Counsel, filed suit against Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Both lawsuits allege that the respective women were given no or inadequate anesthesia and, although they then decided not to have abortions, they were forced to undergo the procedures against their will.

Both lawsuits also allege that the physicians who performed the abortions did not examine the women after the procedures, and that the women had severe pain and other symptoms at their homes and were taken back to respective hospitals.

Once at the hospitals, medical staff that allegedly examined each of the women concluded that the abortion doctors had left parts of the fetus in their wombs, causing infections, according to the respective lawsuits.

In news conferences announcing the lawsuits, statements from attorneys representing the case also were similar.

"A woman's life is more important than Planned Parenthood's bottom line," Romero, Byer's attorney, said in a news release. "What Planned Parenthood did to Ayanna is beyond the pale. They clearly put her through extraordinary cruelty and jeopardized her life. Their actions were intolerable."

In a news conference in June announcing Gravely's case, Dys made similar statements.

"A woman's life is more important than an abortionist's bottom line," Dys said. "What Stephens and Women's Health Center did to Itai is beyond the pale. She has been exposed to extraordinary cruelty, and her life was put in jeopardy."

Dys told the Gazette-Mail that his client called him about the lawsuit after the alleged botched abortion. He said this week that it's common for attorneys to review similar cases in preparation for filing their own.

"The reason they seem so similar is that women are harmed when they have an abortion, and this is not a irregular activity," Dys said.

The lawsuits differ in some areas. In Byer's case, the lawsuit alleges that the doctor stopped the abortion after seven minutes because she was crying and did not complete the procedure. Gravely's lawsuit alleges that Stephens did not use ultrasound to guide him in the procedure.

Byer alleges that she was promised anesthesia through an IV but never given any. Gravely's lawsuit says she was given "twilight sedation" but never lost consciousness. Gravely also asserts that she was "physically restrained" so the abortion could continue against her will.

A lawyer defending Stephens, the physician for the West Virginia clinic, has denied the allegations against his client.

"The center contests the allegations in the complaint and is prepared to defend against them," Tamela White, Stephens' attorney, said in an email to the Gazette-Mail.

Stephens has settled seven malpractice lawsuits since 1970, according to the West Virginia Board of Medicine's website. Two others were dismissed. The board has not disciplined Stephens.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., lists Romero and Dys, who are representing the women as "allied attorneys." The Alliance is assisting the attorneys with the lawsuit.

Reached Thursday afternoon, a representative of the ADF declined to comment on the matter, saying the Colorado case is set for trial in June before District Court in El Paso County.

Citing a court-issued protective order, Romero said he could not comment on the matter.

Anti-abortion advocates in West Virginia are pushing for regulations that abortion rights advocates have argued are meant to restrict access to abortion.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is reviewing the state's regulations for abortion clinics. Morrisey recently accepted public comments on the matter.

Read the Gravely complaint here and the Byer complaint here.

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

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the time period during which Stephens had malpractice lawsuits filed against him.


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