CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We recently wrote to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to voice our shared concerns over his recent inquisition and media campaign that singles out women's health centers in West Virginia. As leaders of our organizations and on behalf of our more than 25,000 West Virginia members and supporters, we joined together in calling on him to put a woman's health and safety above politics.
We informed the attorney general: There is simply no medical or safety-related justification for a targeted inquiry into abortion care providers in West Virginia. While hundreds of medical malpractice cases are filed in our state every year, it strains belief that a single malpractice lawsuit, which has not yet been adjudicated for merit, could validate a broad and unprecedented attorney general investigation into every provider of a particular medical procedure.
A preliminary review of available court records indicates that there have been no malpractice cases filed over abortion services in West Virginia, other than the one recently filed by the Family Policy Council and Jeremy Dys. Similarly, there have been no actions taken by the West Virginia Board of Medicine against physicians that would indicate any past problems with abortion services.
We told the attorney general, "Therefore we are confident that your targeting of abortion care providers is not motivated by a sincere concern for the health and safety of West Virginians. Rather, it is motivated by an expressed political agenda to limit a woman's access to abortion care." Regulations that single out abortion care providers threaten the existence of women's health centers, jeopardizing the health and safety of our women and families.
Although abortion is safe and legal, 96 percent of West Virginia counties have no providers of abortion care. Eighty-four percent of West Virginia's women live in these counties. West Virginia women already face unique barriers and often must travel hundreds of miles to receive abortion care. Additional restrictions could limit the services that the two existing clinics provide, or even force those clinics to close, placing an extraordinary burden on women and families in our state. For many poor and working-class women, traveling great distances to obtain care is simply not an option and could lead some to consider unsafe alternatives that pose grave risks to their health, lives and reproductive futures.
For a government official to suggest that abortion care is unsafe or that abortion care providers are unregulated is baseless and misleading. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a woman can undergo. Less than 0.5 percent of women obtaining abortion care in West Virginia experience any sort of complication. This outstanding safety record is attributed to the specialized, quality care given in outpatient facilities. There is zero credible scientific evidence that abortions are performed unsafely in outpatient facilities in our state or would be safer performed in another setting or with more regulation.
In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has established professional guidelines for outpatient clinics providing abortion care and has ascertained that it is dangerous to inject politics into the provision of health care to women. In addition, the group issued a new Statement of Policy in 2013 highlighting the organization's objections to laws forcing physicians to give or withhold specific information when counseling patients or that mandate specific treatments, tests and procedures.
All outpatient health-care facilities, including the two abortion providers in our state, are required to comply with numerous federal and state regulations. Each medical professional in the state, including the physicians and clinicians who provide abortion care, are required to maintain professional standards and licenses and to complete continuing medical education courses. Additional regulations include the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and many state and local facility regulations, including building and fire codes. In addition, both abortion care providers in West Virginia are members of the National Abortion Federation, and as a condition of membership, must adhere to NAF care standards for which they are assessed on a regular basis, including standards for infection prevention, use of antibiotics, analgesia and sedation, and treatment of complications.
When dealing with health and safety in the medical profession, we should be taking the lead from medical professionals, not politicians. We support the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' position and oppose campaigns and legislation that weaken the relationship between a woman and her health-care provider through mandated government interference. A patient's right to be counseled and treated by her provider according to the best available medical evidence and the provider's best medical judgment must be protected.
Whether a woman chooses adoption, seeks an abortion, or decides to become a parent, she needs access to quality, safe health care. A woman is entitled to make decisions that are best for her. Our organizations are committed to ensuring that our citizens' access to reproductive health care is not withheld or delayed because of political agendas or party affiliations of officeholders or candidates. We will continue to do all that is within our power to fight for and protect the health and safety of West Virginia's women and families.
Pomponio is executive director of WV FREE. Paul Sheridan, executive director of ACLU-WV; Casey Willits, executive director of Fairness West Virginia; Pamela Van Horn, state director of Planned Parenthood Health Systems; Tonia Thomas, team coordinator of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and Aila Accad, president of the West Virginia Nurses Association, also contributed to this commentary.
This coalition is hosting a Stand with West Virginia Women Rally at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at the State Capitol in the upper rotunda.