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WV abortion clinics decline to answer Morrisey's letter

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VICKI SMITH, Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, WV (AP) — Both of West Virginia's legal abortion clinics declined Tuesday to complete questionnaires about their practices and policies from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Charleston-based Kanawha Surgicenter said doctors and others dedicated to women's health are concerned when any state official singles a health care provider out for scrutiny "for reasons unrelated to medical care and public health."

"While we are unaware of any legal obligation to respond to your letter," Dr. Gorli Harish wrote, "we have no objection confirming that we follow all federal, state and local laws, and that we provide the highest quality of medical care available."

Women's Health Center of West Virginia, also based in Charleston, sent a separate letter saying it would not answer his questions because of pending litigation.

Itai Gravely is suing the Charleston center and Dr. Rodney Stephens in Kanawha County Circuit Court over an abortion she says was performed on her last year over her objections. Gravely says she asked Stephens to stop because she was having severe abdominal pain.

The lawsuit also claims the doctor left the fetus' head inside her uterus.

"We assure you and all West Virginians that the Women's Health Center complies with all laws and regulations," Executive Director Sharon Lewis wrote in response to Morrisey's questionnaire.

Women's Health Center has cared for West Virginians for 37 years, she said, "offering a wide variety of essential medical services." Those include cancer screening, pap tests, diagnosis of and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy testing and pregnancy support programs, contraception and sexual health counseling.

"We will continue our efforts to review the state of abortion regulation in West Virginia and seek to ensure women's health is protected," Morrisey said in a statement.

Morrisey's letters asked, among other things, how often the clinics are inspected, how providers ensure they're complying with the best practices and how they're affiliated with a professional providers' association, the National Abortion Federation.

Morrisey, a Republican elected last year, said the state regulates doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, architects, chiropractors, social workers, real estate appraisers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, barbers and cosmetologists.

"But abortion clinics in West Virginia are neither licensed nor regulated by the state," he said at the launch of the inquiry. "Regardless of one's position on abortion, the state needs to evaluate this basic fact."

The state Department of Health and Human Resources has taken no position on Morrisey's inquiry but says that because there is no specific licensing category for abortion providers, there is no specific agency to regulate them.

The DHHR's Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification is the responsible licensing agency for hospitals and extended care units operated in connection with a hospital. The DHHR says "abortion and all medical and surgical procedures performed in West Virginia are conducted in accordance with the existing medical standard of care for such procedures."

Morrisey asked the clinics' physicians 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 were also asked to explain how they determine the appropriate amount of anesthesia and what policies they have ensuring patients' recovery.

Two civil liberties groups, WV FREE and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, have expressed concerns about Morrisey's action.

Morrisey said he was also moved to act by the recent conviction of a Philadelphia abortion provider, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, for killing three babies born alive at his clinic.

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press