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Ed Rabel: Morrisey joins the GOP's war on women

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Republican war on women is real. And Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey -- West Virginia's first Republican AG in 80 years -- has joined the nationwide GOP assault on women's health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families.

Compared to the warfare in Texas and North Carolina, where unjustly harsh anti-abortion laws have been enacted, Morrisey's assault is mild. But it is seen by many West Virginia women as just as demeaning and disrespectful as the state-sanctioned abuse elsewhere.

Asserting that women's health clinics in the state may not be well-regulated, Morrisey has provoked fury among pro-choice activists who are demanding that he back off. And by singling out the clinics for investigation, Morrisey is being accused of trying to create new obstacles to abortions while insulting the licensed and accountable doctors and nurses who care for those seeking the safe and legal services.

In the 30-plus years the women's health-care clinics have been operating in West Virginia, the Department of Health and Human Services has logged not one complaint against the facilities.

"The attorney general is just like Republican legislators in Texas who want to stop all abortions," Kimberly White, a Huntington-based mental health provider, told me. "He knows he can't overturn Roe v. Wade, so he is trying to chip away at the clinics in hope that he can shut them down eventually."

The truth is, if Morrisey wants to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The small proportion of women and girls who don't use contraceptives account for half of all abortions in America, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health. Yet West Virginia has some of the weakest sex-education instruction in the nation. And if Morrisey is successful, West Virginia seems destined to follow the nationwide pattern of retrograde: humiliating obstacles to girls who want to end pregnancies, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex education in schools.

A malpractice suit which was brought against one of the West Virginia clinics is being used by Morrisey as a springboard for his investigation. That hardly warrants taking aim at the irreplaceable clinics that use no federal dollars in providing needed care. And the need is obvious. The Guttmacher Institute says clinics nationwide serve one in five American women at some point in their lifetimes.

Morrisey would be well served to listen to the advice of Bill Clinton: that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Achieving that isn't easy, and there is no silver bullet to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But family planning and comprehensive sex education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned abuse and humiliation.

Rabel is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist who lives near Charleston.


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