West Virginia AG Investigates Regulation of State Abortion Clinics

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West Virginia AG Investigates Regulation of State Abortion Clinics

Robin Marty

Citing the Gosnell case and a lawsuit over an incomplete abortion performed in 2012, the state attorney general has sent inquiries to the state's two abortion clinics asking for a wide range of information about how they operate.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has sent inquiries to the state’s two abortion clinics, asking for detailed information on patient safety, frequency and types of procedures, memberships to the National Abortion Federation, and other medical best practices in an effort to evaluate if and how the clinics are regulated, the Associated Press reports. Morrisey claims the inquiry stems from a recent lawsuit against a doctor who allegedly performed an incomplete abortion on a patient who changed her mind mid-procedure, landing her in an emergency room, as well as the Kermit Gosnell case. But reproductive rights advocates say Morrisey is simply looking for a way to shut down clinics.

According to the AP, the attorney general’s letters to the only two clinics in the state asked them to:

…explain their understanding of state abortion laws and regulations, to list the types of procedures they perform and at what stages in a pregnancy, and to explain how they educate and obtain consent from patients. The doctors are further asked to explain how they determine the appropriate amount of anesthesia and what policies they have ensuring patients’¬†recovery.

He also claimed in a statement that “abortion clinics in West Virginia are neither licensed nor regulated by the state.” That comment was deemed “patently false” by a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia.

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Morrisey has given the clinics until July 1 to respond, and says that he will then decide if additional steps need to be taken.

“It would seem that the attorney general of the state of West Virginia is doing the bidding of a right-wing fundamentalist organization,” Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights group West Virginia Free, told the Charleston Gazette. She was referencing a recent press conference held by the Family Policy Council (FPC) of West Virginia, which, along with Alliance Defending Life, accused a doctor from the Women’s Health Care of West Virginia (WHCWV) of performing the above mentioned incomplete abortion in 2012. “We knew Morrisey was going to attack abortion providers. It was just a matter of when,” she said.

Legislation specifically designed to regulate abortion clinics in the state was proposed in the last legislative session by Delegate Rick Moye (D-Raleigh). Moye, an anti-choice Democrat, introduced a resolution to inspect clinics, but the bill wasn’t heard in the senate before the session adjourned in April. Then, in May, the FPC urged supporters to contact the governor and demand a “48 hour stand down” to let inspectors enter clinics without cause. In fact, the group argued, showing no signs of inappropriateness is itself cause to investigate the clinics. “By outward appearance, WHCWV gives every appearance that it is a professional operation. But so did Gosnell’s clinic,” FPC representatives wrote in a letter to the governor. “It was only after law enforcement entered his clinic … that the state finally saw his rusty exam tables, rooms that reeked of cat urine and body parts of babies stored in jars, bags and even stuck in the plumbing.”

Now, the lawsuit against WHCWV has provided a third opportunity to push for inspections, and Morrisey has been eager to respond. However, he may not actually have the power to do so. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia told Metro News that Morrisey may lack the statutory authority necessary to regulate the clinics in the first place, making his request for documentation moot.