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Lawsuit's doctor is medical adviser for national anti-abortion group

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston physician whose statement is at the center of a lawsuit against a local abortion clinic is the medical adviser for a national anti-abortion group.

Dr. Byron Calhoun, vice chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at West Virginia University Hospitals' Charleston Division, reviewed the case of the 26-year-old woman who claims she got a botched abortion at the Women's Health Center in Charleston, according to the woman's lawsuit.

Calhoun is the national medical adviser for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an organization that trains and provides legal counsel to "life-affirming" pregnancy resources centers, according to the group's website.

The group's mission is to "provide pregnancy resource centers with legal resources and counsel with the aim of developing a network of life-affirming ministries in every community across the nation in order to achieve an abortion-free America," according to its website.

Calhoun, who is board-certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, gave the screening certificate of merit in a lawsuit against a Charleston abortion clinic.

Under state law, screening certificates of merit are required to be filed in malpractice cases by a health care provider who is an expert in the particular field of medicine associated with the case.

The lawsuit, filed June 7 in Kanawha Circuit Court, alleges that Dr. Rodney Stephens, of Women's Health Center of West Virginia, performed a botched abortion on Itai Gravely, 26, of Charleston.

Gravely alleges in her lawsuit that she had changed her mind about having an abortion when she found out that the center couldn't give her adequate anesthesia and that Stephens and his staff ignored her demands not to begin the procedure, physically restrained her and started the abortion. She was sent home but went to an emergency room the next day, where doctors found the head of the fetus left in her womb, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys for Stephens and the women's health center have denied the claims and said they will fight the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, Calhoun spoke at a national conference for Students for Life, a group whose mission is to "abolish abortion in our lifetime," according to the group's website. 

Calhoun also testified last year before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee about the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The legislation, which passed the House in June, would prohibit abortion for women in the District of Columbia who are more than 22 weeks pregnant, with an exception for some cases when the abortion is needed to save the mother's life.

"Dr. Calhoun is a very respected professional in his field of obstetrics, gynecology, and perinatology," Jeremiah Dys, an attorney from the Family Policy Council of West Virginia and who represents Gravely, said in an email to the Gazette. "Beyond that, given that this is a matter of ongoing litigation, my responsibilities to our client prevent me from commenting on matters not in the public record of this case."

Calhoun did not return an email or phone message by press time.

According to the lawsuit, Calhoun claims that Stephens breached the standard of care for Gravely because he did not use ultrasound technology during the abortion, account for every part of the fetus following the procedure, get informed consent from Gravely because he misdiagnosed the fetus's gestational age, give Gravely sufficient anesthesia for the procedure, stop the procedure even after Gravely requested it, or examine Gravely following the procedure.

Calhoun also wrote that Gravely suffered severe pain, emotional trauma, repeated surgery and increased future health risks and that as a result she will need mental health treatment for increased risks of anxiety, depression, suicide, substance abuse and sleep disorders. She will also have preterm births and increased risk of death as a result of the botched abortion, he wrote.

Stephens, in a response to the complaint, denied performing the abortion against Gravely's will and said that she complained of pain but that it was "consistent with the experience of other women in having this procedure but not pain that was suggestive or indicative of a complication."

Attorneys for Stephens also say Gravely was informed before the abortion that parts of the fetus could be left in the uterus and that more procedures could be necessary.   

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

 


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