Abortion rights group rallies at W.Va. Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — About 200 abortion rights advocates rallied Tuesday at the West Virginia Capitol in an effort to counter recent calls for the state to begin regulating the procedures, fearful abortions could become more expensive and difficult to obtain.

West Virginia is one of 11 states that don’t require a licensed doctor to perform an abortion. Because the state doesn’t license the providers, it also doesn’t inspect facilities.

The state’s two abortion clinics, the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia and Kanawha Surgicenter, are in Charleston.

In June, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey began investigating whether any regulatory changes are needed. That investigation followed the filing of a lawsuit by The Family Policy Council on behalf of a woman who claims a Women’s Health Center doctor performed an abortion over her objections. Itai Gravely says she asked Dr. Rodney Stephens to stop because she was having severe abdominal pain. The lawsuit also claims the doctor left the fetus’ head inside the uterus.

Morrisey has asked the state’s two abortion clinics to answer a series of questions about their practices and their policies for ensuring patient safety. However, both clinics declined to answer his questions in detail.

Morrisey also solicited public comments on his website about several broad areas of interest dealing with abortion, including informed consent standards, gestational age limits and the state’s abortion laws compared with others.

“Statutes require informed consent and parental notification, but we have not located any law that requires abortion procedures in West Virginia to be performed by licensed physicians or any law that sets a gestational age limit governing when an abortion procedure may be performed,” the notice seeking comment says.

In the capitol rotunda, protesters chanted slogans toward Morrisey’s office that were loud enough for anyone passing by to hear. The rally also occurred on a day state lawmakers were in the building for interim meetings. Organizers said Morrisey is pursuing a right-wing conservative agenda and that he’s more concerned with politics than women’s safety.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, WV FREE’s executive director, said abortion clinics are regulated just like other medical facilities that provide procedures outside of hospitals. She added that Morrisey is misleading the state’s residents.

“We’ve got to stop the lies. They end here. It’s just not the truth to say otherwise, Mr. Morrisey,” she said to supporters.

Among other things, the crowd of mostly women shouted: “Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate,” and “Patrick Morrisey lend an ear, your war on women ends right here.”

There were also numerous signs telling Morrisey to go back to his original home state of New Jersey, with rally participants saying he had violated West Virginia’s longstanding mountaineers’ spirit of residents always being free.

Minutes after the lengthy protest organized by WV FREE, the American Civil Union of West Virginia and other groups began, Morrisey’s office issued a statement saying he encourages the free flow of ideas on any issue.

“What are the regulatory standards in West Virginia for governing abortions, which are legal in the state until birth? Our review is analyzing this question and many others that have been raised by people across the political spectrum,” Morrisey’s statement said. “After our review concludes, we will be in a position to identify the exact nature of abortion laws and regulations in West Virginia. We note that a bipartisan group of legislators have also asked for a review of abortion rules in West Virginia.”

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