News Abortion

BREAKING: West Virginia Legislator Calls for Disciplinary Action Against Anti-Choice Doctor

Sharona Coutts

A West Virginia legislator has filed a complaint against well-known anti-choice physician Byron Calhoun for breach of at least two codes of conduct and is calling on West Virginia University to respond on why action has not been taken against Calhoun, who teaches there.

Click here for all our coverage of Dr. Byron Calhoun.

A West Virginia legislator has filed a complaint against Dr. Byron Calhoun, a well-known anti-choice activist who has made unfounded claims about injuries relating to abortion in that state.

State Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie (D-Kanawha) filed the complaint with the West Virginia Board of Medicine, the agency charged with disciplining medical doctors licensed to practice in the Mountain State.

“In light of Dr. Byron Calhoun’s alarming claim that he sees “botched abortions” on a weekly basis … and given that the West Virginia Board of Medicine has no record of any claims in reference to any hospital visits regarding alleged injuries stemming from abortions, it is my opinion that he is in breach of at least two codes of conduct,” Guthrie wrote in her complaint.

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Calhoun, who is vice chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the West Virginia University-Charleston Division, made the claims in a letter he wrote to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in June 2013. Morrisey campaigned for office on an anti-choice platform and is widely expected to push for restrictions on reproductive rights in the 2014 legislative session.

Guthrie’s complaint lays out two possible reasons to discipline Calhoun.

“As professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at West Virginia University at the Charleston Area Medical Center, Dr. Calhoun must be aware that reports of incompetence or substandard care should be made to the appropriate clinical authority to assess the potential impact on patient welfare,” she wrote.

As first reported by Rewire, Calhoun never reported any of the alleged injuries to the state medical board, despite both legal and ethical requirements to do so. Robert C. Knittle, the head of the medical board, told Rewire that failure to comply with those rules can result in a physician facing disciplinary action.

Guthrie also raised an alternative reason for Calhoun’s failure to report the alleged injuries—that he lacked any evidence to support those claims.

“If upon your review you find Dr. Calhoun made knowingly false statements, I respectfully request the Board of Medicine to take swift action,” Guthrie wrote in her complaint, which is addressed to Knittle. “Given Dr. Calhoun’s position in teaching future physicians at West Virginia University and the impact his statements have made on matters of significant public importance in our state, your review is critical.”

In an interview with Rewire, Guthrie made clear that Calhoun is not the only target of her anger over his remarks. West Virginia University is funded by the state, Guthrie said, and she noted that WVU’s budget comes before the state finance committee every year.

“I’m not sure that we should be providing state money to a university that allows for a physician to subject his students, or anybody that he serves, with his own narrow ideology,” said Guthrie, who is a member of the finance committee. “If Dr. Calhoun did breach his position, the question becomes whether my colleagues in the legislature want to make sure that WVU understands that doctors like that shouldn’t be allowed to practice, and to carry the WVU mantle.”

Calhoun did not respond to Rewire’s request for comment by our publication deadline. The university did not immediately respond to our request for comments on Guthrie’s statements, but a spokesperson for West Virginia University Health Services earlier declined to comment about the possibility that Calhoun could face disciplinary actions for failing to report the alleged incidents, or for making unfounded allegations.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a voluntary membership organization, said that Calhoun has not faced any disciplinary action by that professional body, and remains in good standing.

The broader political context of Calhoun’s complaints is the nationwide push for tighter state laws on reproductive rights, and on access to abortion in particular.

Over the past year, an unprecedented number of bills passed in state houses around the country that shuttered clinics or required women to undergo medically unnecessary procedures in order to obtain an abortion.

West Virginians fear that their state will be next. When asked about her reasons for filing this complaint, Guthrie noted that her complaint should also send a message to Attorney General Morrisey.

“He shouldn’t be using his job to advance his own ideology,” she said. “His ideology is reckless and it is the war on women that we had been trying to avoid in the West Virginia legislature.”

“I think that Patrick Morrisey has gone over the line, and so has Calhoun. And I don’t want to go down that road,” she said.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, a nonprofit organization that promotes reproductive rights and justice, welcomed Guthrie’s move.

“We in the women’s health community value a woman’s health and safety, so it is important to get to the bottom of Dr. Calhoun’s claims,” Pomponio told Rewire. “We are heartened that Delegate Guthrie has called for factually based accountability.”

News Abortion

D.C. School Sues Anti-Choice Protesters for Allegedly Harassing Students

Sofia Resnick

A lawsuit alleges that anti-choice protesters stood in front of the school and yelled at students that a future Planned Parenthood clinic “kills kids next door.”

A public charter school in Washington, D.C., is suing a handful of people who have for months protested the construction of a Planned Parenthood clinic that neighbors elementary and middle school campuses.

School officials have accused the demonstrators of harassing students and parents in front of the school on several occasions. Meanwhile, many of the defendants say the allegations are exaggerated and in some cases false.

Two Rivers Public Charter School filed the complaint on Wednesday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The lawsuit lists six defendants but only five by name, including Robert Weiler Jr., who in 2006 was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting to bomb and shoot up a Maryland abortion clinic.

“Laid bare, Defendants’ plan is to stop the construction of the adjacent Planned Parenthood facility by engaging in a concerted effort to aggressively confront students, harm their emotional well-being, upset their parents and guardians, and ultimately damage the school’s reputation within the community,” reads the complaint.

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The school seeks injunctive relief “to prevent Defendants’ extreme and outrageous conduct” and is asking the court to bar defendants from demonstrating within a “reasonable distance” of the school during school hours and from engaging children under the age of 12.

The lawsuit alleges that on a handful of occasions, these defendants stood in front of the school and yelled at students that the future Planned Parenthood clinic “kills kids next door.” The complaint also accuses the demonstrators of “exhibiting large signs and gruesome photos purporting to be aborted fetuses” and of obstructing students’ safe passage into the school.

Abortion opponents since the summer have demonstrated the construction site in D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood NoMa, as Rewire reported previously. Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC has worked to convert the former food storage warehouse into a full-service reproductive health clinic that offers abortion care by next spring.

The defendants say they are within their First Amendment rights to protest on the public sidewalk and deny claims that they have harassed students.

Weiler told Rewire in a phone interview that the lawsuit is “bogus.”

Weiler held a banner outside Two Rivers elementary school during an early-morning protest on November 16, when parents were dropping off students, according to the complaint. The lawsuit includes a picture of Weiler standing near the school holding a large bright-yellow banner featuring cartoonish images of frowning baby faces and the statement: “THEY KILL BABIES NEARBY! Tell your parents to stop them.”

Weiler, 35, said this was the only time he has protested the Planned Parenthood site and said he did not speak to any students that day. He said police were present and did not tell him or the other demonstrators to halt their activities.

“The only reason I’m named in the lawsuit is to bring a little bit more media attention because of my past,” he said, adding that he no longer engages in illegal or violent activity.

The lawsuit accuses Jonathan Darnel, another defendant—just this week—of jogging after middle school students and forcing in their palms a flier soliciting attendance to a neighborhood commission meeting, to voice opposition to the Planned Parenthood center.

Darnel identifies himself as an independent anti-abortion advocate and has worked for the Maryland chapter of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a California-based group that displays graphic images of aborted fetuses at anti-abortion protests. Darnel declined a request for an interview, but told Rewire in a text message that he did not instigate violence against anyone and did not “force” students to take his pamphlet.

“They took them freely like any other person would,” he said.

The complaint includes an email Darnel allegedly sent to Two Rivers administrators, telling officials they would come to regret having Planned Parenthood as a neighbor, listing among other things that Planned Parenthood would try to hook Two Rivers middle school students “on the perverse sexual lifestyle that they promote.”

And, he noted, there would be protesters.

“It means anti-abortion protesters (like myself) outside Planned Parenthood and at the intersection of Florida Avenue and 4th Street, decrying the child-killing that is going on just a few hundred feet away. Many of us will carry images of aborted children to awaken the deadened conscience of the community,” the email reads.

Lauren Handy, another defendant, also contested many of the claims made against her in the lawsuit. Handy directs the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Anti-Choice Project, a national group that advocates against abortion. She told Rewire in a phone interview that the complaint contains “half truths, exaggerations, and sometimes outright lies.”

The complaint alleges that during one protest in late August, Handy and other protesters displayed large posters of dismembered fetuses so students and parents entering the school would see them and that she shouted phrases to students, including a 3-year-old, such as, “Tell your parents you don’t want to go to school next to a baby killing center.”

Handy said the lawsuit conflates different events. At the August protest, she said, it was not a school day and she was showing the aborted fetal images to construction workers and passing cars. She said she has video to corroborate her version of events.

Handy said she and other protesters did stage a demonstration aimed at students and parents on two days in November, to “break parents out of the apathy.” She said they chanted about Planned Parenthood being a baby-killing center but did not display images of aborted fetuses. Handy said she has no future plans to protest in front of the school. She also noted that she did not know Weiler before she met him at one of the protests and was unaware of his violent past.

The lawsuit also names Ruby Nicdao, who works for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s Virginia chapter, and Larry Cirignano, the D.C. representative for the Children First Foundation, which sponsors specialty “Choose Life” license plates and says it distributes proceeds from the plates to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers and maternity homes.

The D.C. government is treating these allegations seriously. Security guards checked bags at the neighborhood commission meeting advertised in Darnel’s fliers this week, something they don’t normally do. One of the commissioners, Christopher Miller, donned a bright-pink “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” T-shirt throughout the meeting, which was attended by dozens of activists opposing the new clinic.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) told The Washington Post that she is working with Two Rivers school officials and police to protect the students and the community. And D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told the Post his office would investigate and prosecute any illegal conduct.

Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC has applauded the charter school for filing the complaint, calling protesters’ actions targeting students “inappropriate” and “shameful.”

“This shameful tactic is a desperate attempt by protesters to halt construction on Planned Parenthood’s new health center and administrative headquarters in Northeast D.C.,” Dr. Laura Meyers, CEO of the D.C. Planned Parenthood affiliate, said in a statement. “It’s flatly inappropriate for protestors to involve small children in an adult conversations by screaming at them and showing graphic images that are clearly inappropriate—and downright scary—for children as they come and go from school.”

The lawsuit identifies six protesters, but the injunction would extend to organizations or people who “act in concert with the Defendants” and engage in similar behavior.

Other activists protesting the new Planned Parenthood are concerned by the lawsuit’s broad language, such as the Rev. Pat Mahoney. This summer, the Presbyterian minister founded Abortion-Free DC, a loose network of activists who have staged protests and prayer vigils in front of the construction site and leaned on local contractors to abandon the project.

However, Mahoney told Rewire that he has always instructed activists meeting with his group not to engage students or teachers at Two Rivers, and not to display signs with graphic images. Mahoney said he agrees with Two Rivers that Weiler’s presence near the school is concerning given his violent history. He said he thinks the majority of the actions outlined in the complaint describe protected free speech, albeit “a violation of common sense and decency.”

“Our concern is that that sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood remains open to peaceful First Amendment activities,” he said.

Investigations Religion

West Virginia Women Speak Out About Extremist Anti-Choice OB-GYN

Sharona Coutts

Women in West Virginia are speaking up against Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, the prominent anti-choice OB-GYN who holds senior positions in West Virginia’s public health care and education institutions.

Read more of our articles on False Witness Dr. Byron Calhoun here.

To view the full False Witnesses gallery, click here.

Women in West Virginia are speaking up against Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, the prominent anti-choice OB-GYN who has been caught out lying about the risks of abortion on more than one occasion.

In addition to being affiliated with multiple extremist anti-choice groups, Calhoun holds senior positions in West Virginia’s public health care and education institutions.

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He is vice chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University, and serves as the only maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC)—where many West Virginia women go for prenatal and birthing care.

That means Calhoun is the only expert available at the state’s major teaching hospital for women with high-risk pregnancies, including women carrying twins or triplets, as is the case for two of the authors of these open letters, who have granted Rewire permission to publish them.

The four authors are Margaret Chapman Pomponio, Lesly Messina, Christine Teague, and Jessica Gladwell. All are West Virginia residents. Pomponio, Messina, and Teague are affiliated with WV Free, a local reproductive rights organization. Gladwell, who is pregnant with triplets, is not affiliated with WV Free.

They addressed their letters to key decision makers at West Virginia University and CAMC, including Andrew Weber, vice president and administrator at CAMC; John Linton, the dean of the School of Medicine at WVU’s School of Medicine-Charleston; and Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean at WVU Health Services. So far, none of the women has received a response, they told Rewire.

In preparation for this article, Rewire reached out to both West Virginia University and CAMC. Neither replied to our requests for comment or to our questions about whether they have initiated any investigation or disciplinary proceedings against Calhoun.

“Calhoun is singlehandedly driving patients away from health care close to their homes, creating anxiety and possibly medical problems due to travel time; families suffer as a result.” —Margaret Chapman Pomponio

“My intention in writing this letter is not to open a discussion of the politics of abortion, but rather act in my duty as a woman and as a healthcare provider myself to express disdain.” —Christine Teague

“There is no question that he is dangerous to women’s health.” —Lesly Messina
“I never dreamed that my need for access to high-risk maternity care would place me in the care of a physician whose knowledge about the source of my employment causes me panic.” —Jessica Gladwell

Click here to download the PDF.


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